Chef Michael Thor faces a long road where success will be judged by the wiggle of a toe.
Thor, 33, a partner in the Whiskey Kitchen restaurant set to open later this year off downtown’s Nash Square, suffered a severe spinal cord injury in a motorcycle wreck about 10 weeks ago. The downtown Raleigh community of chefs, restaurateurs, artists and friends are raising money to support Thor and his wife, Sarah, as he tries to recover.
Right now, Thor is a quadriplegic on a ventilator, but he is working to regain feeling in his arms and legs at the Shepherd Center, a spinal cord and brain injury rehab hospital in Atlanta. His family said Thor expects to be released later this month and return home to Raleigh.
“We try to be as positive about it as we can,” Sarah Thor said last week. “He’s going to walk. It’s the journey that’s going to be tough.”
Friends have donated more than $20,000 to a gofundme campaign to help with Thor’s medical bills and expenses. 110 Yoga, a downtown Raleigh studio, gave $600 based on donations collected during January classes. Raleigh’s Lonerider Brewing Co. plans to donate proceeds from a few specialty kegs. A large fundraising event with live music, a silent auction and raffle is set for Feb. 28 at The Big Easy’s downtown Raleigh location.
In a video sent to The News & Observer, Thor said, “The community of Raleigh has shown an incredible outpouring of love that I couldn’t have imagined possible. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Sarah Thor added: “It’s amazing. We are so grateful for everyone.”
On Nov. 20, the couple enjoyed lunch at Sosta Cafe in downtown Raleigh. Afterward, they headed north on Wake Forest Road – she driving her car to go home and he riding a black 2012 SYM motorcycle to a friend’s house.
At about 3:30 p.m., near the intersection with Glascock Street, Ciana Hope Kersey, 25, of Raleigh, changed lanes without seeing Thor on his motorcycle, according to a Raleigh police report. Her 2003 Lexus collided with Thor’s motorcycle, sending him off the road and into a pole. Kersey was charged with unsafe lane change, according to police records.
Sarah Thor, who was driving ahead of her husband, learned about the wreck a couple hours later after he was at the hospital. The crash left her husband without feeling below his neck. He had fractured the second vertebrae from the top without severing his spinal cord. He also suffered a broken shoulder blade, broken nose, six broken ribs, a collapsed lung and a badly injured right arm that required surgery to insert metal plates and screws.
Thor stayed at Raleigh’s WakeMed for two weeks, often with a waiting room full of friends and family. Nine people crowded into his hospital room on his last day there for a goodbye party before he was flown to the Atlanta rehab center.
“He has that personality that everybody loves,” said Coleen Speaks, owner of Raleigh’s Posh Nosh Catering where Thor worked for five years before leaving in late 2014 to open Whiskey Kitchen. “If I know anyone who has the perseverance and the right attitude to get through something like this, it’s him.”
Started at Tripp’s
Thor attended Cary High School and graduated from Durham’s Camelot Academy. He attended Lees-McRae College for a few semesters before deciding his future was in a restaurant kitchen. He worked at Tripp’s on Wade Avenue, where he met his wife who was working as a waitress while attending N.C. State University. After more than a decade, Thor decided he wanted to run his own kitchen.
He partnered with Jeff Mickel, longtime general manager at Flying Saucer Draught Emporium. Whiskey Kitchen, which is to be in the former White Horse Limo warehouse at 201 W. Martin St., is billed as a chef’s barroom with Southern-inspired fusion food and an extensive selection of bourbons, Scotches and other spirits. Construction continues as Thor tries to recover.
He’s on a ventilator and has a tracheostomy tube to help him breathe. He can talk if his trach tube is adjusted but mostly communicates by others reading his lips. He suffers from spasms and phantom pain in his limbs.
But there are good signs. On Dec. 28, he moved the big toe on his right foot. On Jan. 19, he was able to move and lower his right calf. He’s seeing similar progress with his left leg. While he hasn’t been able to move his arms yet, his mother, Karen Thor, said he reports having the same sensations in his arms that he did with his legs before being able to move them again.
In Raleigh, his friends are focused on raising money to help the couple. Sarah Thor hasn’t worked her job as a Lenovo vendor since the crash. The couple will need a wheelchair ramp installed at their one-story Raleigh house and some other renovations to improve accessibility.
And in Atlanta, Thor and his family are focused on his physical recovery – one leg lift at a time.
Want to help?
▪ Donations are being collected online: gofundme.com/nnbjypys.
▪ A fundraising event will be 3-10 p.m. Feb. 28 at The Big Easy, 222 Fayetteville St., Raleigh. It will include live music, a raffle, silent auction and vendors. Volunteers are still needed for the event. For details: michaelthor.org