Quad Belly

Posted by Amber Collie in Life After Paralysis on February 06, 2023 # Lifestyle

Zack Collie was only a teenager when he broke his neck in a beach accident. The unimaginable happened in less than a minute. I chose to figure out ways Zack could still live a good life despite his life-altering diagnosis.

At 15 years old and newly injured, neither Zack nor myself had eating healthy at the top of the to-do list. We were consumed with physical therapy and finishing high school. Food was not something I thought about seriously. Back then, Zack lived on French fries and pizza like many teens. I can remember while living in the hospital; they provided an alternate menu for him consisting of pizza, corn dogs, chicken strips and fries, jello, and pudding; the healthiest item was a fruit cup. We got so sick of the hospital food that we snuck out of the hospital multiple times. I wheeled Zack in his temporary wheelchair to the nearest restaurant that was within walking distance. Yes, we got away with it, and it provided adventure and laughs even though our situation was not at all funny.

After diagnosis as a C-4 quadriplegic, we quickly realized exercise was going to be important, making sure Zack was moving those muscles and limbs that we took for granted with regular daily living before. Now he would be working with a trainer, or physical therapist, or using a standing frame. Zack was 170 lbs. pre-injured. He immediately lost 30 lbs. while in the hospital the first week. The overall trauma – once out of the hospital and back at home, he gained back about 10 lbs. Zack hovered about 155 lbs. for many years, and as he finished out his teen years and entered young adulthood, he kept his weight around the same. He used to say to me how he didn’t want to get a “Quad Belly” most any person sitting down, even if thin or at a healthy weight, can get. While sitting, your belly can stick out more, then disappear when you stand up. Since using a wheelchair, his belly was more pronounced.

Adjusting what Zack ate was hard because he was so picky, so we practiced portion control, cutting out second helpings and eating slower. I started serving Zack dinner on a smaller plate. As time went on, Zack suddenly opened to trying new foods, surprised as I was because this was the kid who didn’t taste ranch dressing until age 18. Something simply shifted in Zack and his palate was stretched in a positive way. 12 years post injury and 28 years old, Zack is now labeled in our family as a “Foodie.” Zack had a drastic change, from a finicky teen to a young man who now makes reservations for the newest sushi place.

For those who are paralyzed, almost everyone would agree it’s harder to stay fit or lose weight; thus, adopting healthy eating habits can make a huge difference. Zack is a wonderful example that we can change our eating habits if our mindset is in the correct place. Over the years, I have watched Zack do this in multiple areas of his life. He has found a balance between eating healthy and having a social life. Maybe a small “Quad Belly” isn’t so bad, all things considered.

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, junior 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.