Friends after Spinal Cord Injury

Posted by Amber Collie in Life After Paralysis on August 31, 2022 # Lifestyle

Zack and friendYou’ve probably heard people say that you find out who your real friends are when you ask for help moving. I feel this is true with a spinal cord injury. It is such a life-altering event, and people respond in many ways.

My son Zack was injured in a beach accident on Memorial Day 2010. It was unimaginable that this happened. Zack is the oldest of 4 children; he was a freshman in high school. I had 3 younger children ranging in ages 5-13. I spent 3 months in the hospital with Zack, coming home the week of his 16th birthday. I can remember back to the shock of it all. It felt like I was walking dazed in a nightmare; I couldn’t process my son could no longer move his own body.

He was such an active teen. Zack was always up for doing almost anything; he just wanted to hang out with friends and enjoy life. I was 38 at the time. Good friends kept asking me what I needed, but I never knew how to answer that. I wanted Zack not paralyzed; that is what I needed. My rational side of my brain went into an instant Mama Bear mode, willing to go to the ends of the earth for my boy. We were going to beat this; he was going to walk again. It felt temporary.

I think back to the different hospitals and stages of that beginning injury stage and all the emotions flowing at the same time. I could cry and laugh in one sentence. I was trying to hold it all together. It was the darkest when I was alone. I couldn’t hold it in during those moments, the tears flowed, and an overwhelming feeling took over.

My closest friends helped with things like groceries, gift cards, laundry, and house cleaning. My mom stayed with my other 3 children and got them off to school so my husband could go to work. Strangers came out of the woodworks; an article had been written; a local Orange County boy breaks his neck, becoming a quadriplegic. Word got out, and a couple of thousand people showed up at the local high school for a taco fundraiser. It was amazing and sad all in one.

As the dust settled and life moved on, I realized there were a couple of people I had not heard from. Close friends, that I regularly saw, where are they? I ended up reaching out to them, and they told me that they just didn’t know what to say. Zack experienced similar situations, mind you; he was a 16-year-old boy, so we are talking about teenagers.

His very best friend was the one who pulled him out of the water that day. They had been inseparable and had known each other since pre-school. Now he was MIA. No word. He visited Zack 2-3 times only after I insisted and drove him. I like to say Zack & I are forgiving, but it was very hard. When we needed these friends the most, they disappeared. Zack never cried over becoming paralyzed; I thought it was odd and that it just hadn’t sunk in yet. He accepted his fate early on and chose to move forward. Years later, he told me that was his mindset because the alternative was devastation, and he said he couldn’t afford to go there.

The first time I saw Zack cry was after being stood up again by friends saying they were coming by for a visit. It was one of my saddest moments. Seeing my paralyzed boy lying in a hospital bed in our living room waiting for his friends, hearing them on speaker phone give him another reason for not coming. Hanging up and seeing tears fill his eyes, roll down his cheeks, and him unable to wipe them away. It was very tough giving those so-called friends grace, but I knew they just didn’t get it. I had to forgive and let go of my feelings of frustration towards my own friends who did not support us.

What I did find out, though, was who my true friends really were. I also had people in my life I would have labeled as acquaintances who stepped it up. I was really touched by this, and to this day, our friendships are closer. It took 3 years for Zack’s childhood friend to come around again; he expressed his regret and how he just couldn’t handle what had happened. I’m happy to report they were able to pick up where they left off, find new types of activities to do, and enjoy hangout times. I will forever think of that boy as the one who saved my son from drowning. We also learned valuable lessons about expectations, forgiveness, and true friendships.

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.