Tom Clapper: ‘Can you believe I’m here?’ |

Tom Clapper: ‘Can you believe I’m here?’

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

ASPEN – Name recognition won’t be an issue in Aspen native Tom Clapper’s bid for a Pitkin County commissioner seat. Whether anyone will recognize him in person is another matter.

Clapper returns home Friday, nearly three months after his near-death collapse at a local restaurant that Denver doctors have since ruled was the result of heart arrhythmia – erratic electrical activity in his heart that caused it to stop, according to his wife, Patti. Clapper, 53, did not suffer either a heart attack or a stroke, she said Thursday from the Front Range. His heart is undamaged, she added.

Nonetheless, Clapper’s rapid and nearly complete recovery after five weeks in a coma in a Denver hospital is nothing short of a miracle in the eyes of his family, friends and caregivers, not to mention Tom himself.

“Can you believe I’m here?” he asked rhetorically in a telephone call Thursday. “I’m so impressed with the people who took care of me.”

The Clappers planned to spend Thursday night in Monument, acclimating Clapper to altitude, before heading for home via Independence Pass.

“The doctors have no qualms about getting him back to elevation,” Patti said. “Just for us to be home, to be back in the mountains, is going to be huge.”

Among Clapper’s first orders of business will be riding in fire truck No. 1 in Aspen’s Fourth of July parade, beside his brother Willard. A former firefighter, Clapper is a member of the Aspen Fire District’s board of directors. After the parade, he’ll be at the fire department’s block party and barbecue, a celebration of the town’s new fire station.

“We’ll be hanging out at the station until Patti sends me home,” Clapper clarified. “She’s definitely in charge.”

Anyone who’s looking to greet Clapper should look for a much thinner man than the one they remember. Though he’d been losing weight before his collapse, Clapper has dropped considerably more since then – 200 pounds in all, he said.

“I’m skinnier now than I was in high school,” Clapper said. “I had to go to a thrift shop to get clothes. I really feel great.”

Clapper will continue physical therapy at an Aspen gym and speech therapy at Aspen Valley Hospital. Doctors in Denver placed an internal defibrillator in his chest Tuesday morning. It will activate if Clapper suffers further episodes of arrhythmia and function as a pacemaker if his heart stops.

“Let me tell ya, having that thing in his chest makes me feel better,” Patti said.

Clapper won’t be returning to work (construction during the summertime) anytime soon, and he won’t be driving a vehicle for a while. But he’s ready, he said, to begin campaigning. He is one of five candidates for the District 1 commissioner seat currently held by Patti. She is leaving the position because of term limits.

Clapper’s supporters circulated his nomination petition and got his name placed on the Aug. 10 primary election ballot in his absence.

Patti, who has made just two brief visits to Aspen since mid-April, will return to her regular commissioner duties next week. She said she has kept abreast of county government from Denver and has been doing some work on the Front Range, with the lobbying group Colorado Counties Inc., for example.

Three months in a hotel, sometimes with the couple’s son and daughter, has been largely covered by community contributions to a fund set up to assist the family, according to Patti, who said she has been happy with the family’s insurance coverage.

It will be some time before the Clappers know what their final out-of-pocket expenses will be, Patti said, but some of the contributed funds remain to help cover bills. Returning home will help financially, she said.

“Thing were getting a little thin – not just Tom,” she quipped.

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