- Associated Press - Saturday, October 14, 2017

ELON, N.C. (AP) - Many people interacted and worked with Thomas Walker over his years at the Elon Police Department. He was a master police officer and trained officers when they joined the department.

Unfortunately, Walker developed a brain tumor and had it surgically removed last year, which forced him to retire from the force. While he has struggled to recover over the last year, his wife Joy of 23 years has been there throughout his entire experience.

Walker joined the department in 1998. He said his reasoning, though cliché, is true:

“I have always enjoyed helping people,” Walker said. “I really do want to help people.”

Walker said the highlight of his career was field training, while best part was helping people who couldn’t help themselves and being there for people when they died.

“It just seemed during his duty hours, people would die,” Joy Walker said. “We saw it as a blessing because we felt like God was putting him at the right place at the right time. His chiefs often said that they always felt comforted that Thomas was the one that was doing the death notification. They knew that he would help bring peace to a tragedy that a family would be facing.”

One of the craziest incidents Walker was in was a time when he helped stop a plane.

“There was a student who was missing from Elon,” Walker said. “Another officer and I got on the phone and started making contact with the parents, trying to find out where she was. Apparently, she had just boarded a plane to go home to another state. She was having suicidal thoughts, and she actually overdosed on the plane.”

Walker and other officers made the plane stop in Durham and got the student off the place. He never found out what happened to the girl.

“Everyday, he wonders how she did, how is she doing,” Joy Walker said.

Walker stayed with Elon for five years before working with the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office as a patrol officer for only two and a half years before returning to Elon. While Walker can distinguish the sheriff’s office from being “more intense,” Elon felt more like home.

He “would always talk about in the past, how one side developed (him) more in one area and the other developed (him) in another area,” Joy Walker said. He “would talk about how (his) learning curve went in different directions, but (he) grew in both places.”

“I became well-rounded and stuff,” Thomas Walker agreed. “Elon is challenging in itself, too, because it is a different environment. It is a different type of policing in Elon than it is in the county or the city.”

Joy Walker said her husband shared the passion that most cops exhibit.

“I think that’s the hard thing, is knowing the passion of the blue line, he worries for today’s societal elements,” Joy Walker said. “He always heads into the danger, never a thought for himself. It is always the concern for other people.”


Walker officially retired June 1 after a retirement dinner in May. He recalled how helpful and kind the police officers were, especially Chief Cliff Parker.

“He is a great guy,” Thomas Walker said.

Both Walkers expressed their joy at having many happy memories of Walker’s time at the department, as well as all the friendships that formed over the years.

“I have met some really good people over the years,” Thomas Walker said. “I do miss the interaction with the people and the town and the other offices and stuff like that. I do miss that.”

His retirement was because of his brain tumor, which had formed sometime over the previous two years.

“I started having headaches, and I was treated for migraines,” Walker said. “I was put on a low dose of medicine. It was preventative for migraines.”

The medicine didn’t work, though, and it wasn’t until August 2016 when the tumor was discovered.

“I guessed it masked it or something for a while,” Walker said. “It seemed to get better, but then they started coming back really bad. I would have to either go into the office and sit in a dark room, hoping for it to subside, or I would be sent home, or I would call in. When I started calling in and coming home, I knew something was wrong.”

His wife finally persuaded him to get an MRI.

“She kicked me pretty much and said, ‘You’re going,’” Walker said. “I was diagnosed with the tumor.”

Walker choked up when he recalled the day he had to tell his fellow officers he had to quit.

“We have to qualify once a year,” Walker said. “It was one day in September. I remember being at the range and shooting. I passed qualification. I did good actually. I told them I couldn’t work. How could I solve anybody’s problems when I couldn’t solve mine? I qualified, and then that was my last day working.”


Before the surgery, Walker put everything in place in case he didn’t survive.

“The doctor told me that the surgery - I could die, I could come out in a vegetative state, I could come out blind, deaf or mute or all three,” Walker said.

With his tumor being in the center of his brain and the doctors needing to go through the area where basic motor skills are, it was a high chance something could go wrong.

Thursday, Oct. 5, marked the one-year anniversary of his tumor being removed. All he has left is a scar that covers a titanium plate and screws.

“I have a hole, like a square hole, in my skull where they had to go into my brain,” Walker said. “They threw that piece of skull away and actually put a plate over my skull.”

Walker is still thankful to his surgeon Dr. Kyle Cabbell, for everything he did.

“He is great,” Walker said. “He is a great guy.”

While the tumor was successfully removed, Walker has struggled to recover. He has a hard time forming sentences and remembering things, he now has to wear glasses because of double vision, he has no peripheral vision, and he sometimes drops things.

“We speculate on what could have happened, but we are not really 100 percent sure,” Joy Walker said.

Cooking has also been a problem since Walker can forget that the oven’s on, but he has overcome that issue by claiming, “I am the Crock-Pot king now.”

Lucky for him, Joy Walker has been there for him through all his struggles.

“She is my best friend,” he said. “She is my comfort zone other than when I am at home, too.”

“I understand why families break up,” Joy Walker said. “I do, but we have been blessed. It is such a stronghold.”

The two share a 27-year-old daughter and a 22-year-old son. Walker explained how proud he was of them both and how “they have stepped up to the plate” to help.


Since the surgery, Walker has created his own form of personal therapy: mowing and cutting trees.

“You don’t have to think; you do,” Walker said. “I will get on my riding mower, and I will mow. Even if it doesn’t need to be mowed, I will mow. If I get anxious or a little angry or something like that, I will grab my chainsaw, and I will go out in the woods, and I will start cutting trees and throwing logs.”

Walker is still working on new ways to make things easier for him.

“I have good days and bad days,” Walker said. “It can change in the middle of the day, middle of the night - anytime it can change.”

Walker can usually tell when his bad days are going to be because of a tightness he feels around his head. Pain medicine hasn’t helped the pressure so far.

“It’s just the way my brain is processing that day,” Walker said. “I have already seen a neuropsychologist. There is nothing they can do. I am just holding on.”

In light of his surgery and the recovery process, Walker finds that his faith has only strengthened over time.

“I have to give God the glory. I do. This is either a faith builder or a faith destroyer. This has definitely been a faith builder. I do want to give God all the glory for answering prayers,” Walker said.

The couple has received support from members of their church, New Hope Baptist Church, as well as from the Elon Police Department. Walker wanted to thank Cabbell again for helping Walker.

“If it hadn’t been for God, family, good friends, church family, I don’t know where I would be,” Walker said.

Thomas and Joy Walker are now “redefining new norms” and taking life one day at a time at their home in northern Burlington.

“We feel humble because so many people have lost loved ones to tumors, brain tumors,” Joy Walker said. “We are feeling extremely blessed.”

“It’s been hard. It’s been different,” Thomas Walker added. “God has strategically put people in my life. I have met new people, and they have become really good friends. We are going to keep trekking forward.”


Information from: Times-News, https://www.thetimesnews.com

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