BSN Alumni - Overcoming a Personal Health Diagnosis and Filling a Community Need
At just 17 years old, Thomas Sikkema, BSN, was diagnosed with a rare pediatric brain cancer. His encounter with the nurse on the first day of his road to recovery was the reason Tom decided to become a nurse himself. "Nurse Sharon (or as I called her "Mama Sharon") was the first RN that cared for me when I was admitted to the hematology/oncology floor at Helen DeVos. There was a caring, calming presence about her that put my family and me at ease when we were in total shock from the unexpected news. She is still one of my biggest supporters as I navigate survivorship and life in general” states Tom. (Silver lining number one!)
Tom had brain surgery in 2013 to obtain a biopsy of a brain tumor, and to have a third ventriculostomy (to bypass a blockage of cerebrospinal fluid which was causing his brain to herniate – which would have eventually taken his life). This bought Tom enough time for four rounds of chemotherapy and five weeks of radiation. Prior to surgery there was discussion that a potential outcome of the surgery would be that he may lose his ability to walk. After a successful surgery, and all of the recovery efforts, Tom’s cancer was considered in remission, and he never lost his mobility.
Not only did his frightening personal health journey help determine his path to higher education, but it also fueled the beginning of a lucrative business based on his potential immobility.
During his recovery, when Tom believed he may end up as a paraplegic, he proactively worked to find ways he could live his active life in a wheelchair. (Here enters a second silver lining). While researching his options for mobility in a wheelchair he discovered a community need – access to quality, wheelchair-accessible, community transportation.
He followed his desire to become a nurse and graduated from GVSU’s Kirkhof College of Nursing (KCON) with his Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree in 2018, which also happened to be the year his new transportation business, Ride Your Way was born.
After his graduation from KCON, Tom began working as a nurse at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, and as fate would have it, he was assigned to the same floor he resided on as a pediatric cancer patient years before! At that same time, he also continued his work to fulfill his passion to fill a community need with Ride Your Way. Ride Your Way is a community transportation company that prides itself in providing the highest customer-rated wheelchair and ambulatory transportation at West Michigan’s most affordable price. They are all about reliability. Whether it is a ride to dialysis, physical therapy, or anything in between, when you need them, they are there. Though the premise of this company began as a way to assist people with health-related transportation needs, it is open to anyone in the community who may need transportation for any reason!
Being able to see this community need through the lens of a patient, business owner and caregiver allows Tom to see the full spectrum of the need for quality, wheel-chair accessible, community transportation in West Michigan. “Our drivers go through an extensive interview process to be hired at Ride Your Way. Our drivers are patient centered, compassionate & kind, and want an opportunity to give back to the community. They are First Aid & CPR certified and will soon have training on best practices for working with dementia patients." states Sikkema. However, anyone who chooses to ride with Ride Your Way must be medically stable. Sikkema says what makes them stand out from other area transportation companies is the personal attention every rider receives. “Rides are safe, comfortable and accommodating, and passengers aren’t required to ride in the back of the van where there is a higher chance of motion sickness.”
In December of 2021, Tom reduced his hours as a nurse at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital due to the intense growth of Ride Your Way, and since then, in just over 8 months, Tom states he has “seen an increase of 600% in usage going from 18-20 rides a week to 110-120 rides per week. We currently have six vans with four on order and are hoping to increase to approximately fifteen vans by the end of 2022”.
We are proud of our alum as he continues to work to remove the barriers that prevent individuals from living their best life!
For more information and rates go to rideyourwaymi.com or email Tom directly at [email protected]
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