Student Spotlight

Accident delays student’s dream; faculty member steps up

March 20, 2015 by Brandman University
Brandman University MFT student Tom Burton and faculty member Dr. Frank Weber

Tom Burton and Dr. Frank Weber

Tom Burton became passionate about wanting to be a therapist, so he enrolled in the master’s in family therapy (MFT) program at the Brandman Roseville campus to pursue his professional dream after a career in the U.S. Navy and earning an undergraduate degree from UC Davis.

MFT students, especially at a place like Brandman, form tight bonds during their time together as graduate students – and as it turns out, with faculty as well.

Burton had completed all of his course work, clinical hours and written components of his master’s program and was within a couple of weeks from finishing when an accident suddenly changed the course of the 56-year-old’s life. An avid cyclist, Burton was testing out a speed bike he had built. During the early morning of July 27, he struck a metal gate that leads into a wastewater treatment plant off of a county road in northeast Davis. Plant workers discovered Burton unconscious several hours after the accident and he was rushed to the hospital.

Burton sustained irreparable spinal injuries in the accident and is now almost entirely paralyzed.

“I remember getting the heartbreaking email from his daughter following the accident and we shared in his family’s feelings of devastation,” said Roseville faculty member Dr. Frank Weber “In my 16 years at Brandman nothing like this has ever happened.”

Dr. Frank Weber at the half-marathon he ran to raise funds for Tom Burton.

Dr. Frank Weber at the half-marathon he ran to raise funds for Tom Burton.

“Since his accident I was trying to come up with a way to help Tom and his family during the difficult time and was inspired by the son of another faculty member who ran a half-marathon in honor of his aunt who had breast cancer. So, I decided to run in a half-marathon to raise money for Tom and his family,” Dr. Weber said.

That was a big commitment for Dr. Weber, who is admittedly not a great runner. He trained for the 13-mile half-marathon for over a year.

“It was grueling and awful,” Dr. Weber recalled. “But I was doing it for Tom – he made such a strong impact on us at Brandman. Tom is a great student with a passion for learning and he was truly striving to become a great therapist.”

Dr. Weber set up an online fundraiser and entered the Folsom Blues Breakout Half Marathon in an effort to raise money for the family last fall. While health insurance has paid for many of Burton’s medical costs, the family was facing staggering other expenses such as a new vehicle equipped for a wheelchair and modifications to their home. Dr. Weber’s effort raised more than $500 for the family, and he continues to periodically visit Burton at his home.

Burton’s daughter Leslie Burton-Lopez also created an online fundraiser for her father.

Brandman University student Tom Burton and his wife, Norma, before the bicycle accident.

Tom Burton and his wife, Norma, before the bicycle accident.

“So many of you have offered to do anything you can to help my family – thank you. I have felt so helpless over the last four months (as I am sure many of you have) weathering the ups and downs of my dad’s recovery process,” Burton-Lopez wrote online. “Insurance doesn’t cover everything. The three hardest things for us to pay for out-of-pocket are a new van, 24-hour in-home care for six months and renovations to the house.”

Although he is now paralyzed , it remains Burton’s intense goal to become a therapist.

“Tom is a fighter and has been steadily regaining strength, and even though he remains immobilized there is still hope of him realizing that dream of becoming a therapist,” Dr. Weber said.

Because Burton only had the oral presentation left to complete the MFT program, Dr. Weber has petitioned Brandman leaders to allow him to conduct that in Burton’s home so that he can earn the degree he worked so hard to achieve.

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