Nov 4, 2009 12:12 PM by By JUSTIN MARTIN The Abbeville Meridional
ABBEVILLE, La. (AP) - Right after high school, Toby Walker entered the oil field and learned the world of sales. After 10 years of that, Walker said he needed to find something else.
"The money was good, but the work was up and down, up and down," he remembers.
So he started looking around for a different occupation and thought of law enforcement. After all, his grandfather, his uncle, his older brother and his younger brother had all done it. It could
be in the blood.
It turned out to be a good decision. For the third time in his 11 years on the force, Walker is the Abbeville Police Department's Officer of the Year.
"He is the quintessential officer," said Chief Rick Coleman, who once worked a shift with Walker.
He said Walker "is single-handedly responsible for more dope arrests than any other officer for the time he had been here."
Walker almost didn't try, worried that the department might not want an officer who wears a hearing aid.
He said Mike Hardy, then the police chief, "asked me if I thought I could do it. I told him I KNEW I could, and he said, 'Well, I'm going to give you a chance.' So I proved it to myself
and him ... and I am still here."
He earned the respect of fellow officers and family members who already had built careers in law enforcement. But it didn't become easier.
Walker was partly deaf when he joined the force, aged 28. But six years ago, he lost all hearing. He now has a cochlear implant, a surgically implanted electronic device that provides a sense of
sound to a person who is profoundly deaf. It is sometimes called a "bionic ear."
While hearing aids amplify sound, a cochlear implant stimulates auditory nerves inside the ear.
It took him six months after surgery to return to work. But it wasn't lack of hearing that kept him off the streets. While on sick leave for the surgery, Walker was diagnosed with multiple
sclerosis, which affects the ability of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord to communicate with each other.
MS takes several forms, with new symptoms occurring either in discrete attacks (relapsing forms) or slowly accumulating over time (progressive forms). Between attacks, symptoms may go away
completely, but permanent neurological problems often occur, especially as the disease advances.
How did Walker overcome the crippling disease? The complicated answer includes a lot of medical jargon and injections three times a week for the past six years. His simple answer is, "I just
refused to let it pull me down."
Two lifelong debilitating diseases only kept Walker off the streets for six months. But he said he wasn't through changing, improving himself.
"I have become more compassionate during the last 11 years," he said. He credits his wife, Karen, with teaching him that "everyone has a different story."
A native of New Iberia, Walker moved to Vermilion Parish when they married 14 years ago. They have three children - Daniel, 17; Ashleigh, 13; and Lauryn, 10.
"Eleven years ago, I was a hardcore police officer, but I learned to listen to everybody," Walker said. "The more you listen, the more you learn about people. You have to have compassion to be a police officer."
Coleman said that characteristic is one reason Walker is Officer of the Year.
"He is truly caring," Coleman said. "A lot of people think he is a different person, a real tough guy. And, well, if you are a doper, then that is who he is going to be to you. But if you are hurt in an accident or a victim of a crime, there is no one else you would rather have come to your aid."
Walker said Abbeville has changed since he joined the force.
"I've seen different people than I did years ago," he said.
"I have seen more of different nationalities; much more diversity."
But changes in cultures and places of origin hasn't changed one thing Walker said he loves about Abbeville. "It's a town that wants to be upbeat and make better of themselves."
Information from: The Abbeville Meridional,
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)