A Decade Paralyzed (May 31 2010)

Posted by Amber Collie in Life After Paralysis on June 03, 2020 # Lifestyle

We are driving down to Newport Beach in silence. My husband Adron and I have just learned that our oldest son Zack is in the hospital. The voicemail message only said there’s been an accident and Zack’s at Hoag hospital. It’s Memorial Day (2010), one of the busiest days of the year to go to the beach. I’d rather him have gone with us to a neighbor’s house to BBQ & swim, but he convinced us to let him go to the beach with friends. My mind is racing; maybe he has hit his head and needs stitches? I’ve been trying to get ahold of his childhood friend Travis, I dial his number again and this time, he picks up, “Travis, what happened?” In the few second pause, I sense it is worse than I may have thought, but I was in no way prepared for his response… “Amber, he can’t move. Zack’s not moving.”Zack Collie

A decade later and this memory can still bring tears to my eyes. At that moment, time seemed to slow way down. When we arrive at the hospital, my husband goes to park the car. I run in, and I mean I literally ran, I had entered the back entrance, so I was running down these very long hallways looking for the emergency ward. When I enter, I instantly feel something bad has happened by the looks on people’s faces as I say who I am. Travis is a very upbeat, energetic person but he is pale, his eyes are wide, he’s in shock.

Adron arrives, and the doctor comes out, ushering us to two chairs, “Mr. & Mrs. Collie, please have a seat,” he says calmly. I don’t want to sit I respond. He kindly but firmly says again please sit. My heart is beating so fast I can feel it pulsing through my shirt. It’s hard to breathe. I hear him say that Zack has sustained a severe neck injury. I look over at my husband. All of the colors have drained from his face. The doctor calls for a nurse who quickly brings him oxygen. This cannot be happening to my boy. He’s only 15 years old. My active, always on the moving child. Zack has never broken a bone in his life. Later, I would hear how he went to dive into a wave, hitting his head on a sand bar breaking his neck and instantly paralyzing him, the diagnosis a C-4 Quadriplegic. I hear myself ask, “what are his chances of recovery? Please do not sugar coat it.” The Dr. replies, he has less than 1% of any recovery. Now, I’m guessing most people would hear that as devastating news but for some reason, I heard, “he has a half percent, and that’s what I needed to hear. I jumped up and said I wanted to see my son.

Zack’s lying on a gurney; I remember there was sand all over the floor. It will be 28 days until his first shower. All I can think now is my boy is alive, and he is still here. We can do this.

He is transferred to Choc Children’s Hospital Orange County’s intensive care unit. Three days later, he had major surgery repairing his crushed C-4 bone. After a 2-week recovery, he is transferred to a rehab hospital for the next 2 months to learn how to live as a Quadriplegic.

I had fierce adrenaline running through my blood this entire time, I was focused and determined to help my son in any way to recover and still have a good life. I became a mother of a Quadriplegic, with 3 other children ages 5-13. I hated this injury. I felt like we were robbed. I did not want to find a new normal. I wanted our old life back. I now had to shower my teenage son and help him use the bathroom. I had my share of private cry sessions, and many painful moments watching him struggle to figure something out or have to ask for help.

Zackery was my inspiration. He somehow accepted his fate from the beginning. He was smiling still; if he could do that and is the one living in a body that no longer works then I can do it too.

Zack chose to be positive for this reason I believe he was able to graduate from High School, College, enter a master’s program, travel, get engaged, move out, skydive and recently get a wheelchair van and driver’s license.

For years Zack and I would laugh and say we should make a video of what it takes to get him into his wheelchair, so one Mother’s Day morning we grabbed a cell phone and recorded it! Zack now can be found on Youtube (Zack Collie), with over 100,000 subscribers educating them on “Life as a Quad” Never Give Up.

My life has had many parts, I could write a book just on that section but let’s fast forward to when I married Adron Collie. Two weeks after turning 20 (yes, very young!) I had Zackery at age 22, Levi at 24, six years later Kaden, and 18 months after that daughter Laila, making me a busy mother of four. At that time, I also ran a photography business. The year Zack was injured I had a child in Preschool, Elementary, Jr. High and High School. Four kids in four schools! I thought I was so busy, just getting their drop-off and pick-up times correct was a challenge. I have to laugh now, thinking back on that because little did I know my life was just about to turn upside down.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.