Marquette family battles in aftermath of horrific crash

At left, sisters Skarlett Swartz and Peyton Thomas hold hands for the first time after their accident. At center, firefighters from the city of Detroit and Belleville visit the girls in the hospital. At right, Skarlett Swartz is pictured. (Photos courtesy of the Thomas-Swartz family via Facebook)

MARQUETTE — While she’s hooked up to a ventilator, has a collapsed lung from pneumonia and is likely facing permanent paralysis from the chest down, 7-year-old Peyton Thomas has found the strength to smile and even dance to one of her favorite tunes.

“Seeing her dancing the other day just made me feel like she’s going to be OK,” said Ellexsis Thomas, Peyton’s mother.

Peyton, along with her sister, Skarlett Swartz, 5, and father, Ryan Thomas, 32, received serious injuries in a March 8 accident on U.S. 41 near Canyon Falls in L’Anse Township. Thomas’ vehicle collided head-on with another traveling in the opposite direction during what police say were complete whiteout conditions.

The driver and passenger in the second vehicle sought their own treatment, and the driver of a third vehicle involved — a semi — was uninjured in the crash.

Peyton, Skarlett and Ryan Thomas were transported to Ann Arbor for treatment of injuries, and are still there.

“It’s really hard sometimes,” said Ellexsis Thomas. “We go through moments like ‘Why did this have to happen to such a young little girl?’ But seeing Peyton (smile and dance) the other day, I feel pretty positive going forward.”

Ellexsis Thomas said Skarlett will be in a brace for at least another eight weeks, giving her mobility in only about 50 percent of her body for the time being. However, she is expected to make a full recovery.

“She loves (physical therapy),” Ryan Thomas said. “She’s thriving and doing the best out of all of us. She’s a chipper girl. Even when she doesn’t feel good, she’s a bright light.”

Ellexsis Thomas said her husband cannot put any weight on either of his legs and will likely be in a wheelchair until at least June. He’s currently going through intensive physical therapy.

“It’s been really trying,” said Ryan Thomas.

Peyton’s spine was completely severed in the crash, and Ellexis Thomas said it’s unclear how much mobility she’ll regain.

Initially, they feared she wouldn’t be able to use her arms, hands or fingers, but she has recently started to regain movement in those parts of her body.

She’s even writing on a white board to communicate with her family.

“She wrote ‘I love you dad’ and wrote ‘Mom’ with a heart,” Ellexsis Thomas said. “It was very special.”

While doctors are unsure of where the paralysis begins because of the sedatives Peyton’s on, she said it’s most likely from the middle of her chest down. Ellexsis said with Peyton, they’re taking it day-by-day, as things can change quickly.

“One minute she could have a perfectly fine X-ray, and a few hours later it’s a fully collapsed lung and pneumonia,” she said. “We’re just taking every minute for what it is.”

Peyton doesn’t yet know the extent of her injuries, but Ellexis Thomas said she’s confident she’ll handle it will grace and a positive attitude.

“It’s hard to come to terms with it, but being able to see her dance and smile a little bit with all of this, it makes me feel like she’s going to be OK,” she said. “It’s not going to ruin her, it’s going to make her stronger.”

While things are moving slowly with recovery, Ellexsis said the support from the Marquette community, as well as from other parts of the state, has been encouraging.

The girls’ rooms are decorated with flowers, photographs and hundreds of “get well soon” cards.

Firefighters from Detroit and Belleville — one with a Marquette connection — recently stopped by to visit and give the girls gifts.

“You always read about these types of things, but don’t really understand it until it happens to you and you see how everyone comes together,” Ellexsis Thomas said. “It’s really amazing.”

While she said she hopes to come home to attend the benefit planned for 7-11 p.m. Saturday at Marquette Mountain, it’s completely dependent on how Peyton is feeling.

Regardless of whether she’s able to physically be there, Ellexsis Thomas said she appreciates the support her family has received, which has left her nearly speechless.

From medical expenses to meals and accommodations, the expenses are quickly adding up. So far, nearly $60,000 has been raised through a GoFundMe page to help offset costs.

Organizers hope the benefit will bring in even more to help with long-term costs, such as a home and vehicle that are handicap accessible.

“The main priority is getting a vehicle that’s able to accommodate all of my children and wheelchairs so we can get them to appointments and such,” Ellexsis said.

However, it’s not the money that is important to her.

“If we had received 25 cents, I would be happy,” she said. “The encouragement means far more to me.”

Kelsie Thompson can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. Her email address is