​Return to School Campus

Posted by Amber Collie in Life After Paralysis on October 07, 2021 # Lifestyle

Zack smiling in the car wearing a turquoise shirtThe world was turned upside down in March of 2020 when the coronavirus hit. It’s been over a year and a half now. There have been so many changes. One big one is education. Everything went from in-person learning the way it’s been forever…to remote learning. Three of my four kids are still in school, and I noticed a difference in how the stay-at-home policy affected them: extroverts and introverts.

My oldest son Zack the only true extrovert in my family, Zack was paralyzed in a beach accident when he was 15. He gets energized being around people and thrives when his schedule is full. My daughter Laila is a lot like Zack. She likes to go and do things but recharges home alone. The two middle boys Levi and Kaden, are introverts. They don’t mind being alone. They want to do things at their own pace. My youngest son Kaden was a senior in high school in 2020. Even as an introvert, this was not the senior year he had envisioned. It’s been an overwhelming and unusual time in history, that’s for sure.

I came across an old e-mail from 2013 when my quadriplegic son Zack graduated from high school. It is an exchange between a counselor at a local university and me. I can still remember the day when I talked to Paul Miller. Zack had no plans to go to college; he was never a studios kind of kid, always getting by with minimal effort and only liked the school because he enjoyed the social part.

Zack was injured in May of his freshman year, about three weeks before school was out. Our lives were turned upside down. Zack was always on the move and always up for doing something; he didn’t take life seriously. He just wanted to have fun. Now suddenly, in an instant, he is a C-4 quadriplegic. Zack did school at home for 10th grade because we were so focused on his physical therapies. 11th grade, he did part at home and returned part-time on campus. His senior year started out easy, with just the last few required classes he needs to get his high school diploma. Then the thought came about what Zack would do after he graduates.

Zack posing with the school mascot, an elephant. Zack is wearing a turquoise shirt and using a wheelchairWe were realistic in knowing he would now need to use his brainpower over his physical strength. I had a panic feeling inside. Where is the closest university, I thought? We live in Southern California. There was Cal State University in Fullerton, about 15 minutes from our house. I called them, and I wasn’t sure why or what I wanted to know, but when the operator got on the line, I asked if they had any kind of disabled service program at their school. Yes, she replied, let me connect you to the disabled student center.

When transferred over, Paul picked up my call. I introduced myself, letting him know that I’m not even sure why I’m calling, but I want to know if a quadriplegic can go to college? I said something like that sounds silly now, but at this time, I really couldn’t see how. His reply was, “Of course, a quadriplegic can go to college!” Standing in the doorway of my bedroom, I cried. It’s exactly what I needed to hear. He was so confident. We met with Zack’s high school counselor, quickly adding and rearranging his schedule to add the classes he needed to apply to Cal State. We only applied to that one school. He got in! Zack walked with a walker (with help from his physical therapists) at his high school graduation in front of his entire class. It was a proud moment.

He commuted his freshman year of college, and lived on campus with a caregiver the following year. I wanted Zack to feel what it would be like to live independently. It took him five years, slow and steady, but he graduated from college. He is now in his third year of getting his master’s degree. I’m happy to report he is currently in a one-year internship at an all-boys military school, going in person, listening, learning, helping kids work through their problems, and helping them persevere. Zack was all smiles when he drove off, returning to his school campus.

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.