SALT LAKE CITY — The students surrounded the trampoline as 14-year-old Kollin Galland bounced high, and higher still. He was about to do a double blackflip, the trick he had perfected on the diving board, mastered on the trampoline, and even done while skiing.
“It was dark, and so the tramp was black and the sky was black,” Kolin said, recalling the moment. He took one last bounce and threw himself backward, tucking and looking.
“I just opened up early and thought I was landing on my feet.”
But Kollin didn’t land on his feet that night on August 30.
“I landed on my head,” the 14-year-old said, with a quiet smile and an exhale of air that in any other circumstance might have been a laugh.
On a recent Tuesday afternoon, as his friends and classmates are making their way to class and football practice, Kollin is meeting with a speech therapist he calls the “swallow lady” to see if he’s now able to eat and drink food on his own.
She brings him a sampling of water, an orange slush, pudding and Froot Loops.
The water is difficult and moves too fast when he drinks. Kollin isn't sure it went down the right way. The pudding is easier. "It's thicker, and gives your swallow more time," the therapist explains to him.
She spoons him a taste of the orange slush. He closes his eyes and absorbs the citrus flavor with a soft smile for a few precious moments before swallowing. But it's not the taste. He can feel the ice-cold drink go all the way down. He knows he swallowed the right way.
Three weeks after the landing that broke his neck, Kollin Galland is in search of feeling.
Noah Yarro is Kollin’s best friend and has known Kollin almost his entire life.
“We would go do everything,” Noah said. “We’d go to a friend’s, go see movies, jump on the tramp, and we would just go hang out and do whatever.”
They were together early on the night of the accident, attending the Timpview football game where Noah said they sat on the rail talking about football and laughing and looking forward to their freshman year of high school.
The game ended and Kollin decided to head to a friend's house for a party; Noah told his friend he would see him later and decided to head home.
A short time later, Jodie Galland, Kollin's mother, said she was just thinking it was time to call Kollin to say it was time to come home from the party. But she got the phone call first.
Kollin's been hurt, a friend at the party told Jodie.
Another call went out from the party to a friend's mother, who is a pediatrician: Don't let anyone touch Kollin, she said.
Another teen guarded the trampoline from any movement. Someone else called 911.
The ambulance took Kollin to Utah Valley Medical Center where doctors did a CT scan. By midnight he was in a helicopter, life-flighted to Primary Children’s Hospital. It would become the family's second home in the week's ahead.
The Gallands are not unaccustomed to hospitals.
Two of their five sons, Devon, 20, and Ethan, 16, were born with congenital nephrotic syndrome, a type of kidney disease.
Jodie gave a kidney to Devon in January 2004 when he was 11 years old. Gary donated a kidney to Ethan in March of 2005.
“You wonder, ‘Really, do we have another one in this,’” Gary Galland said. “And when this happened I thought, ‘Oh, can we really do all this again?’ And it’s actually been, it’s been OK. ... We’ve learned with the first two.”
Jodie Galland now calls those experiences the preparatory years.
“Going through all those experiences with my kids that have kidney disease has kind of prepared both my husband and I to, in our minds, think ‘OK we got this,’” she said. “We can do hard things. We’ve done hard things before and this is another hard thing, but we can do it and we can be successful at it.”
Noah, the best friend, was awakened by his mother the morning after the accident.
“She was like crying and she just looked at me and said, ‘Kollin was paralyzed,’” Noah said.
“It took a while for it to kind of sink in because like, I just hung out with him and he was fully functional I just kind of sat up after she said that and I just told her to leave. I just sat in my bed and I just thought about it. I didn’t know what to think.”
That afternoon Kollin underwent surgery to fuse his C6 and C7 vertebrae together. Jodie Galland wrote in a blog she began that her son has no feeling from the chest down, but has the use of his arms.
“We’re just freaking out over that,” she said. “If you’ve got your arms, you can do anything.”
The doctors told Jodie Galland that her son would be in the ICU for about three days. But that stretched to three weeks.
“I can’t breathe.” “I need air.” “Heavy.”
Those words came from Kollin and were recorded on the blog by Kollin's mother during "the days I’d rather forget about.” But this is a blog about hope, she says "because (I’ll) want to remember how far Kollin has come.” She then adds, “You should always try to paint a realistic view of your journey.”
Doctors assured the family that Kollin's difficulty breathing was normal. But Jodie described watching her son struggle to breathe as “pure hell.”
The doctors discovered a hematoma had formed behind Kollin’s trachea, pushing on it just below his breathing tube. They lowered the breathing tube to expand the collapsed area. That helped.
“These were unfortunate setbacks that he had,” Jodie said, as she tugged on a silver necklace supporting three charms: one that spells Kollin, another the #32 for her third son’s newly retired football number, and a little aqua marine bead representing Kollin’s birthstone.
“He’s making up for lost time,” she said.
On a recent weekday Kollin is whisked away to physical therapy where he sits and grasps the edge of a bench, supporting his entire body with just his arms. His head is bowed in concentration, sending his long blond hair falling into his face
"Can I fix your hair?” says his mother, as she and her husband watch their son's progress.
He practices sticking colored blocks with Velcro on a board and pulling them off. His fingers work to recall the dexterity he knew so well just a few weeks ago. The physical therapist asks Kollin if he wants a break, to which he replies, “Let’s just get this over with.”
The therapists cheer as he rips the blocks down one by one, “You’re doing it,” they exclaim.
“Because I’m upset,” he jokingly replies, but with raw determination as he knocks the last block off with his hand.
Kollin’s parents watch him throughout the exercises, always smiling.
“Every little teeny tiny thing he is able to accomplish we celebrate it,” Jodie Galland said. “Things that we take for granted every single day until something like this happens and then we realize, ‘Wow this is a huge accomplishment for him to be able to do.’”
When Kollin finishes his exercises he is placed in a wheelchair. Gary Galland leans down and tenderly kisses his son on the forehead before pushing the wheelchair toward the elevator doors for some fresh, rooftop air.
Gary Galland said he looks forward to being Kollin’s partner throughout training and rehab.
Rick Reigle, Kollin’s physical therapist, said 95 percent of the battle is mental.
“There’s so much that’s not known about spinal cord injuries so far,” he said. “It’s really hard to put a limit on what people with spinal cord injuries can do.”
He said especially when it comes to someone like Kollin, who did 60 push-ups when his therapist asked him to do 10.
“I don’t think anything would really surprise me with Kollin,” he said.
Gary Galland said his injured son has been putting a smile on his face since the moment he got to the edge of the trampoline that August night.
Lying immobilized on the trampoline, he spoke to his friends, but they were words that comforted his father:
“He said, ‘Girls will you still like me when I’m in a wheelchair?’ and laughed about it,” Gary Galland said. “Granted, he probably didn’t realize how serious or what a reality that was going to become, but he’s had that positive attitude with it. It put a smile on my face when I was there, because you’re afraid, but he had good humor and it’s worked out.”
While the family waits in Kollin’s room before physical therapy his dad leans down and jokes with him:
“You gonna get bigger arms than me? You think so, don’t you,” Gary said with a wide, genuine smile. Then he asks Kollin for a high-five, placing his hand strategically, pushing Kollin to reach farther. Gary asks for a high-five with the other hand.
“How about this high?” he coaxed.
Gary said what brings him the most joy is seeing a smile on Kollin’s face.
“Just being by his side, seeing the small things he can do,” he said. “Sitting up for the first time, feeling something for the first time, just the small things is what brings me joy.”
Kollin has had an array of visitors, from family and friends to football players from both the University of Utah and Brigham Young University.
Coaches and friends decided to retire his older brother Braydon Galland’s football jersey. Jodie said they wanted it to be a way for Braydon, who is currently serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Mozambique, to be there with Kollin.
The varsity players signed the front of the jersey and the freshman team signed the back.
Jodie Galland said Kollin “cried and cried” with gratitude.
As Kollin sat in his hospital bed, donning a Timpview High football shirt, Jodie Galland asked if he recalled a specific message on the jersey.
“Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t do, you’ve got a great life ahead of you,” a teammate wrote.
“That’s kind of who Kollin is too,” Jodie said. “He’s not going to let anyone tell him he can’t do something without trying it first. We’re pretty confident that he’ll be able to do everything he did before, he just might have to do it in a little bit of a different way.”
On Friday September 13, Jodie Galland wrote on her blog “something very special” happened for Kollin and their family. The students at Timpview High nominated Kollin as the freshman Homecoming Prince.
His brother Ethan stood in for Kollin at the football game to receive the award and escort the freshman princess onto the field at halftime.
“You learn how tough you can be and how strong you can be,” Jodie Galland said. “You also learn how much people care about you and that’s huge. That’s huge.”
A greater good
Jodie Galland said if she could, she would give Kollin her legs.
“It’s hard for a mom to watch her kid suffer,” she said. “I would trade places with him in a second if I could if I could.”
Gary Galland paused, his eyes welling with tears, as he verbalized one of the concerns he now has for his son.
“Are there going to be young ladies that still want to date him?” he asked aloud. “As a father I was worried. Are you still going to be interested in my son?”
But Gary Galland said the young women are still interested in his son.
“They’re wonderful, they’re kind, they come up and they’re excited and they want the best for him,” he said. “They have just gotten close to him so that’s been neat.”
Shortly after the accident, Braydon, 18, wrote a letter home from the mission field.
“Today, I received the worst news that I have ever heard about my best buddy Kollin. I broke down,” he wrote. “I felt so low and empty for about 0.5 seconds, and than I remembered what the Lord has been doing for me this week — how he is there, working miracles. I know that God is even more devastated than I am about the news of Kollin.”
Braydon wrote that God is a God of miracles.
“Kollin, I love you. Everything will be OK. Everything already is OK. We are all in the hands of the Lord,” he wrote.
Jodie Galland said she feels like there are friends of friends, and family of families praying for her son.
“Maybe he doesn’t even know it yet but I think that’s helping him a lot. A lot a lot,” Jodie Galland said. “I feel like we’re being sustained by a greater good.”
Noah Yarro said now he feels the charge to be a better friend to Kollin.
“Last time I saw him he was sad because he wasn’t going to be able to do the things that we used to do,” he said, after they talked about going swimming. “I said that we can still do those things and then we laughed. He said, ‘OK but you have to buy me floaties.’”
Gary Galland said over the past few weeks they have been the most impressed with the good nature of people; their neighbors and community, and even strangers here and around the world.
“We’re in a time where there ‘s a lot of bad going on, and I saw more bad all the time,” he said. “So for me it’s been a blessing to see how much good; goodness in people and coming together and cheering for him and wanting the best for him. “
Gary Galland said the accident has caused him and his family to pause, but not stop.
“Do we stop living life to its fullest?” Gary asked. “Do we live in fear or is this just an accident and we’re going to go on? And we’re the type and the brothers, we’ll be out jumping on it I think,” he said of trampolines.
Jodie Galland said knowing how many people are rooting for Kollin helps her stay positive.
“I want to stay positive because I think for sure you get results better when you’re positive,” she said.
Gary Galland said they’re still going to do all of Kollin’s favorite things, like ski and go visit the arches.
“(They’re) just new adventures in a different way,” he said.
And Kollin agrees. As he gets used to his new wheelchair, he wheels over to a mirror to check out his reflection and flex his arms.
“I’m ready to go roll a marathon,” Kollin said.