​Memorial Day 2010-2021

Posted by Amber Collie in Life After Paralysis on June 15, 2021 # Lifestyle

Zack in the hospital bedMemorial Day 2021 is the eleventh anniversary of my son Zack's life-altering beach accident that paralyzed him. Zack was 15 years old, a freshman in high school at the time. I was 38, a mother of 4, married, and ran a small photography business. In some ways, that feels like a whole lifetime ago. In other ways, I remember it like yesterday. I don't know if you ever fully get over an accident like this. You can choose to adapt, try making something positive out of a negative situation, you can wallow in self-pity—something Zack decided not to do.

He was a very active boy, always up for something. He loved to hang out with friends, loved extreme sports like dirt bike riding, surfing, snowboarding, etc. He was average in the grades department, not putting much effort into schoolwork. He was a good kid who liked to push his limits. Being the oldest sibling, he liked to annoy his younger brothers and sister playfully. It was all in fun to Zack, but not sure the siblings would agree.

Memorial Day is known to be an extra busy day for beachgoers. I had asked Zack to stay home and BBQ with the family, but the possibility of going to the beach with friends was way more appealing, so we let him go. He was there most of the day. He said the water was cold. It was late afternoon, and Zack and his best friend Travis, who he's known since preschool, were going to be picked up soon. ­So, Zack and two friends decided to run into the water and swim one last time. This was Zack's last time ever walking or running. The three boys stood from the sand and ran towards the water together, splashing through the whitewash and diving into the oncoming wave. Two boys popped up, but Zack stayed floating face down in the ocean. His friends thought he was kidding around, and that wouldn't be abnormal. Zack loved to joke around.

Zack outside in his wheelchairHis friend Travis watched as his friends oddly still body started floating back out with the tide. Travis remembers approaching Zack, slapping him on his back, still thinking he was kidding around. When no movement was made, he turned Zack upright, just in time for Zack to catch a breath. He had been underwater, paralyzed and holding his breath, hoping someone would notice him. Travis saved Zack from drowning that day. Once turned over, Zack caught a breath but could not speak. Zack is 6ft tall, and Travis is about 5'6. He tried to pull Zack to shore while the waves crashed. He got him to the sand and dropped his arms. They just flopped to the sides, lifeless.

People started to gather. A small trickle of blood came from the corner of Zack's mouth, a sign that he was not faking, and something is seriously wrong. Travis ran to the lifeguard tower. 911 was called. Zack remembers hearing the sirens in the distance, knowing they were coming for him. He was immediately put into a neck brace and taken to the nearest hospital, where they quickly did an MRI to see the damage's extent. Unfortunately, it was not good news.

42nd Street signBy now, I was called and was on my way to the hospital. I did not know what happened; I only knew my boy was not moving. My husband and I arrived, and we are asked to sit down. My heart is pounded, and I could not sit down. When the doctor told us that Zack sustained a severe neck injury, I was in total shock. I did not understand all that is being said. I wanted to see my kid. I got to his room; there was still beach sand all over the ground, and he was still on the paramedic gurney. He could not turn his head, so I leaned over to talk with him. He tried to smile. At that moment, all I cared about was that my son was still here. He did not die that day in the ocean. He is alive, and we will get through this. A hard road was ahead, but we made it through 3 hospitals plus rehab. We did construction on the house to make it more accessible. Zack finished high school, college and is presently in a master's program.

He moved out independently with the caregiver's help and learned to drive. It has now been 11 years since that shocking day. I refer to my life before the injury and after the injury because it feels like two different lives. Every May 31, I think and get a little bit sad but more grateful that my boy is still here.

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.

This project was supported, in part, by grant number 90PRRC0002, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.