Slowed Down Time

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

Collie FamilyA spinal cord injury does not only affect the person who becomes paralyzed; it affects the whole family. I’m a mother of a quadriplegic son who was injured in a beach accident. At the time of Zack’s SCI, he was 15 years old, the oldest of my 4 children. Next was his brother Levi, age 13, other brother Kaden, age 7, and sister Laila, age 5. That was the school year when I had 4 kids at 4 different schools – Pre-K, Elementary, Jr. High and High School. It lined up that way, and I “thought” I was SOO busy! I put post-it notes in my car and set alarms so I wouldn’t forget the school pick up times, which did not always help. I made it almost to the end of that school year, but then on May 31, 2010 (Memorial Day) Zack, my teenage boy, broke his neck at Newport Beach in Southern California. My so-called busy life just went way beyond busy.

That morning, Zack had begged me to go to the beach. I didn’t want him to go (it being a holiday, I knew it would be so crowded), and he had been with friends all weekend already. Our family had been invited to a BBQ and pool party and wanted him there with the rest of the family. Against my better judgment, I gave into his request and off he went with his best friend. Levi, my 2nd boy, was 13 and was playing football with some friends at the local high school. My husband, myself and the 2 younger children went to the neighbor’s Memorial Day pool party.

As soon as we arrived, 2 boys Levi’s age came up to me and asked if Levi was coming. I said yes, after the football game. My little ones jumped in to swim as I watched them and talked with some friends. About an hour later, those same 2 boys from earlier came back up to me and asked if Levi was on his way yet. I felt bad that they had been waiting this long for him, so I told them I’d call Levi and see if he was almost done. My cell phone and personal belongings were across the backyard. I picked up my cell and noticed a missed call. I almost let it go thinking I’d check my messages later. I went ahead and hit the voice mail button. The call was from the mom who drove Zack to the beach earlier that morning. Her voice sounded very serious – normally, she is an extremely upbeat person. She said, “Amber, Zack’s been in an accident; he’s at Hoag hospital.” I could feel this was serious, but my version of serious was something like stiches in his head. I had no idea what I was about to embark on. Thinking back, if Levi had joined us at the BBQ, those 2 friends would not have asked about him, and I would not have checked my cell phone for a few hours.

I felt like I was in a slow-motion movie. My movements felt slow even though I was hurrying as fast as I could. We dropped off the 2 young ones at grandma’s and headed down to the hospital. I called Zack’s friend to find out what had happened. After the 3rd try, he picked up and I asked, “Travis what happened to Zack?” His voice was significantly different – he also had a very upbeat personality. I repeated my question. There was a slight pause, then he answered with the words that will forever be engrained in my brain. “Amber, he’s not moving; Zack is not moving.” My body and brain reacted in an eerie, overly calm matter. The car was going well over the speed limit, but I felt like I was moving so slow, it felt like we would never get to that hospital.

We did arrive, I did run to the ER, I did say, “I’m Zack Collie’s mom,” and I did see the feel sorry for me, nervous, sad expressions on all the faces of the nurses. They ushered us quickly into a room and asked us to sit down where we heard the confirmation words. “Your son has sustained a very serious neck injury with a less than 1% chance of recovery.” I was then led to the room Zack was in. Seeing him lying there, still on the sandy emergency gurney, I just thought to myself, my boy’s alive, he’s here, and we can handle whatever is about to happen.

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.