​The Injury Date

Posted by Amber Collie in Life After Paralysis on September 17, 2020 # Lifestyle

The day my life changed forever was May 31, 2010. I call this my life-altering date. Maybe if you’re reading this, you have a life-altering date as well. What do we do with that date? Hate it, let it pass by, or celebrate? Mine happened to fall on Memorial Day; this was the day that my 15-year-old son Zack broke his neck at the beach. He became a quadriplegic. Instantly I was not too fond of the ocean and the holiday, I knew it didn’t do me any good thinking this way, but I needed to blame something.

I remember living at the rehab hospital with Zack. We were there for almost three months. During that time, Zack was doing occupational and physical therapy, and the staff was slowly teaching me how to care for someone who is paralyzed. During our stay, we met a family whose son was 17 at the time of his injury. Both his mom and him had come to encourage and tell that there really was life after paralysis. When you’re in the early stage of a sudden tragic injury like this, everything feels cloudy with high emotions; you’re in shock and trying to process this new reality. I was glad to meet this family (we are friends still to this day). They told us all the things Hal could still do and had accomplished since his injury three years earlier. I listened with interest, but in my head, this was not going to be us! Zack was going to get better; my son was going to walk again. We just needed time to heal and lots of physical therapy. They were kind, eager to help us in any way, and very positive.Zack Collie persevere, on beach

I had a hard time accepting that our reality was the same as theirs. At one of the multiple visits, we touched on the actual injury date. I asked about their date and how they felt about that day, and what their family perspective was. They immediately responded; we celebrated that day! “What!” “Why?” was my response. It’s a difficult day. They said they celebrate Hal’s life, that their son is still with them and that he survived. A concept I agreed with but was not able to implement into my life for a few more years. I needed to go through my own process. I needed to dislike the ocean and Memorial Day.

One day while talking to a friend about Zack’s injury date, she asked me how does he feel about that day? It’s no big deal to him, I tell her, he still loves the beach and can’t wait to get back. I realized when answering her question that I was more upset than Zack (the person living with the injury). Yes, I’m a mom and had my own pain, but why not adopt his outlook. His choice seemed much nicer and allowed him to feel much lighter. I thought about all that was lost this day and the difficult parts of the whole experience. So, at that moment, I changed my mind. I changed my perspective and chose to celebrate my boy. That family was right. Zack did survive, and he is here. I can still hug my boy. That is something to celebrate! The family at the hospital knew I couldn’t accept it at that time. May 31, 2010, a day I can’t ignore, a day that for me will never be forgotten, but it doesn’t cause me to dread or the feeling of a dark cloud coming over me leading up to the day anymore. Instead, we celebrate! We honor Zack and his positive choice to move forward. We are very proud of the life he has made for himself. Just him being here with us is enough reason to have a celebration. Now, a decade post-injury, I even welcome back Memorial Day.Zack tattoo

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.