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Bridgeport Rallies Around Quadriplegic Teacher About To Lose Vital Benefits

Tom Wade, left, a veteran teacher at Bridgeport's Central High School, wonders how he will pay for his personal care assistant if state changes to his benefits go through.
Tom Wade, left, a veteran teacher at Bridgeport's Central High School, wonders how he will pay for his personal care assistant if state changes to his benefits go through. Photo Credit: Contributed

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Friends are rallying around a beloved Central High School teacher who recently learned that state budget changes might make it impossible for him to work or to continue his normal lifestyle.

Tom Wade sustained a spinal cord injury from a diving accident when he was 17. He is a quadriplegic with a personal care attendant to help him daily with showers, meals, exercise and other necessities.

But late last month, the Milford resident received a letter from the State of Connecticut stating his income was too high to continue the Medicaid for the Working Disabled benefits he has used to pay for the attendant for at least 20 years. The letter said he could be cut off as soon as Dec. 1.

“He’s just a good dude. He’s remarkable. But his expenses are exorbitant,” said longtime friend John Gildea of Milford. “If he gets cut, he won’t be able to work. He’ll end up needing more benefits.”

Gildea posted about Wade’s plight on Facebook and friends took notice: More than 140 have shared his post and dozens are chiming in, vowing to contact lawmakers to remedy the situation.

“Thousands of these notices were sent out,” said Gildea. “He is the poster boy for this.”

Wade was swimming with friends at Milford’s Bayview Beach when he sustained his life-changing injury.

Despite his disability, Wade went on to graduate from the University of Southern Florida and has taught social studies and history at Central High for the past 26 years.

Gildea estimates Wade has mentored thousands of students over the years, and he wins high marks for his dedication and sense of humor.

“Mr. Wade is the best,” a former student wrote on RateMyTeacher.com. “He is a wonderful teacher and really cares about his students. Thanks for everything, Mr. Wade.”

But what his students probably don’t know is how much effort it takes for Wade to get through the day, Gildea said. He wakes at 4 a.m. to get showered and prepare to travel to the Bridgeport school. Once there, he teaches a full schedule.

Wade has never let his disability get in the way of fun, either. While in Florida he went parasailing and snorkeling and he has skied in “some ill-advised sled creation” his friends made, Gildea said.

But the state notice is a game-changer.

“It’s a drastic change,” said Wade. “I don’t know how I would pay for a personal care attendant and pay the bills. There’s no way I could go to work.

“I honestly don’t know what I would do.”

Wade is waiting for a date for the hearing he has requested from the state. He has talked to several state and local lawmakers who have been empathetic and are looking into his situation.

Meanwhile, friends and family are reaching out to state legislators.

“He has a cult following. Everyone knows him,” Gildea said. “This is beyond upsetting. He deserves much better.”

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