​Back to Independence

Posted by Amber Collie in Life After Paralysis on February 21, 2022 # Lifestyle

Zack and SedonaIn 2010 my son Zack broke his neck, becoming quadriplegic from a beach accident in Southern California he was 15. It’s been over a decade, and as I think back to all that has happened, it occurs to me how many backs, and forth we have had moving towards independent living. This has always been our main goal after his spinal cord injury. After finishing his last 3 years of high school in a wheelchair, he graduated. Like many others, he applied to college, we strategically applied at the closest 4-year college, Cal State Fullerton, and he got in.

I wanted Zack to feel independence, so much was already taken away from him. I wanted to create as much normalcy as I could. I wanted him to move on campus his freshman year to meet new people. Unfortunately, we were unable to pull that off. He commuted to school his first year of college. In his second year, we were able to move Zack out for the first time ever and live independently with a full-time live-in caregiver and his service dog Sedona. It did make a difference showing up the second year rather than the first. Zack made the best of it.

The school was very accommodating, this was 2015, and not many paralyzed students lived on this campus back then or before Zack. They made a couple of very nice accommodations for him, including a door that opened remotely, a roll-in shower and gave him an extra room for his caregiver. The staff was very supportive. We added a small ramp to the backslider door, which gave him 2 exit­ — as his mom safety is a huge concern for me.

That year he had a full-time live-in caregiver Monday-Friday. Home most weekends, winter and summer breaks. The following fall, we had a caregiver come in the evenings to help with his bed routine and sleep there, then get him up dressed and ready the next morning. Zack pushed his independence more each year. Learning how to navigate the campus, cafeteria, social activities etc. Living out on his own taught Zack things I knew he couldn’t learn living at home. The downside was the enormous caregiver fees we were paying. It adds up. We had to move him home his last year of college, but he had grown up so much, it was worth it.

Collie family Zack moved back home his last 2 years of finishing his bachelor’s degree. It took him 5 years to graduate, slow and steady is our motto. After college graduation, Zack applied for his master’s degree. During his first year, he met someone and after a year of dating, they moved out together. This was Zack’s second experience with independence. Zack was engaged for 3 years, once again living and learning on real life’s terms. The good the bad and everything in between.

His engagement ended and so did his independent living. He moved back home once again. Luckily, we have a room at our house for Zack we keep set up for him. It has been about a year since the break-up, plus we have this whole world shift of Covid going on because the virus in-home caregivers were hard to come by. As things are ever-changing these last 2 years of Covid, we are back making new plans of Zack moving out again soon with one of his brothers as a part-time live-in caregiver and outside hired help the rest.

Being Quadriplegic is NOT easy. This injury has many challenges sometimes, things work and other times, they don’t. Zack is probably the best at choosing to keep moving forward. This has not come easy to me. I’m somewhat of a control freak. I wasn’t always this way, but having 4 kids, one who is paralyzed, one with diabetes, one with anxiety and one with depression, has made me try and control things. The big problem with that is you cannot control everything. It’s a recipe for failure. The biggest life lessons have been learning to go with the flow and allowing things to work themselves out. So, when Zack moves out, I’m happy for him, glad he is learning to live on his own and if he comes back home, I’ll enjoy him being here until the next move.

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.