​Making a Difference

Posted by Amber Collie in Life After Paralysis on June 27, 2022 # Caregiving, Lifestyle

text message I received a private message on social media saying, “I read your story on the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation site! Thank You for posting! My 15-year-old son dove into a pool last July and has had C-5 and C-6 replaced. This is all so new to us. My son is 6’2. I’m a single mom and do everything by myself. It’s been such a hard road; his spirits have been great, and his friends have been simply amazing! Thank you for the hope that, eventually, everything will be okay after reading your story! I’m going to have my son, who is 16 now; check your son's YouTube out.”

These types of messages always encourage me. They tell me that my son’s story is still impacting others in a positive way, even 12 years later. Our world was turned upside down when my boy Zack broke his next in 2010 after diving into the ocean. I walked around in shock for months trying to wrap my head around this accident, and my 15-year-old athletic, active son was paralyzed. I can remember all those up and down emotions flowing at one time. One minute I was taking in the new information, trying my hardest to learn how to take care of a quadriplegic, the next minute, I’m in my car weeping uncontrollably, trying not to hyperventilate. What are we going to do? How are we going to make it? That frozen in time moment when I received the phone call, the silent panicked car ride to the ER, seeing my son in a neck brace laying perfectly still on a gurney, the doctor asking me to have a seat, hearing the prognosis but unable to comprehend it, the ambulance ride to the Children’s hospital intensive care unit, waiting for surgery, recovery, hospital stay then onto rehab hospital for a total of 3 months.

text message Zack came home the week of his birthday; it was not the vision I had for him turning 16. We had a hospital bed in our living room, makeshift wheelchair ramps, a full bathroom remodel, a Hoyer lift, and medical supplies. As completely overwhelmed as I was, I was more than determined to help my son get through this. Zack’s attitude from day one was “I’m not looking back, only forward” Somehow, he accepted his fate very early on. I kept thinking that he just didn’t quite understand what’s happened to him. In some respects, he didn’t. In time he came to the full realization that he was a C-4 quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair, and that day on the beach hanging out with friends was the last time he would run. This part of the story is not happy, it's devasting and heartbreaking.

Suffering a spinal cord injury was unfathomable, yet here we were dealing with exactly that. Everyone handles tragic situations differently. I knew the only way to move forward was to face it head-on and accept the unimaginable. I desperately did not want this to be true, but I knew if I stayed in denial, I could get stuck there. This accident, this one moment in time, changed our entire life’s path. This could not be for nothing. I watched my son, and I was amazed that he was talking, smiling and even laughing with friends. Most of the time, Zack cheered up the family, friends and even strangers who came to visit him. I couldn’t believe it. He was proof that you really have a choice over your thoughts, words and actions no matter the circumstances. My teenage son taught me that, and 12 years later, he is still inspiring others.

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.