Getting Some of the Old You Back

Posted by Amber Collie in Life After Paralysis on April 05, 2022 # Lifestyle

I was a professional photographer before I was a mother of a spinal cord injured child, aka a full-time caregiver. The minute I found out that my 15-year-old son Zack was paralyzed, everything seemed to slow down and nothing else mattered. I'll never forget being asked to sit down and hearing the doctor say how Zack had sustained a very serious neck injury and that he had less than a 1% chance of ever walking again. My ears also heard my son was alive. He survived. I could still talk to him, hug him, come alongside him to wherever this took us. I was ignited with a fierce "Mama Bear" determination to do whatever it took to get him healed and as independent as possible.

Those first couple of years, we were seriously focused on physical therapy. We tried out different types of workout places, many private one-on-one sessions, water therapy and acupuncture. Zack was a freshman in high school at the time of his ocean accident.

It was Memorial Day, and the beach was super crowded. Zack and 2 friends ran into the water. Zack dove under the oncoming wave, hitting a sandbar and breaking his neck. He had never broken a bone in his body before this day. He was diagnosed as a C-4 Quadriplegic. I stayed with Zack for 3 months in multiple hospitals. I only came home 2 or 3 times in those months. My husband would bring the other 3 children to visit us on the weekends.

My world before May 31, 2010, I was a mother with 4 kids going to 4 different schools that year. I had a child in pre-school, elementary, junior high and high school. I ran a small photography company, photographed weddings, events, families, children etc. It was my hobby that turned into a business. I always felt so grateful to do what I loved and get paid. After Zack was injured, I was way too overwhelmed to photograph, my schedule was full, and I lost my drive and desire to do what I used to love. After a few years of taking a break, I noticed how many things had changed in the photography world, and the biggest was cell phones with cameras on them. Which quickly had become very popular.

When I started my business back in 1996, my assistant and I were the ones with a camera. Pictures were special, and couldn't wait to be viewed. Over the next 5 years, I took on small projects, but it just didn't feel the same. I was outdated, especially regarding the editing and the final products. These days, in 2022, every single person has a cell phone with editing options and pretty good ones. I personally even retired my professional camera to be replaced with my cell phone because I could send pictures right then and there to family and friends. Sadly, it put a lot of photographers out of business, but that's the evolving world for you.

Zack moved out for a few years into an apartment with his fiancé, then in March of 2021, a year into the whole Covid-19 pandemic, they broke up. Zack was forced to come back home since in-home caregiving was hard to find. Zack has lived back home for a year, but I am happy to report he will be moving out again this week. I never mind that my son is home. It's that I love seeing him independent, and I know that's what he wants. I think it is good for our relationship to take breaks from each other.

The other day while walking Zack's service dog, I started thinking about the upcoming shift from being full-time caregiving to not. I've never had the problem with being lonely or bored, mostly the opposite, so a nice break and less responsibility is welcomed. I thought about picking up a hobby or trying something new. Then I thought, why not pull out the old camera and try to update myself? It feels intimidating, but why not try. Dusting off my camera bag, I put together my old setup and took some practice photos of a very dutiful subject, Zack's sweet service dog Sedona, a good girl.

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.