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My Afterlife: Guilt, Hope, and Meeting “The Strongest People on This Planet”

We asked Holly Bosse, mom of 23-year-old client Collin Bosse, to tell us about her experiences and what she’s learned during the first eight months following Collin’s life-changing spinal cord injury earlier this year.

Spinal cord injury survivor Collin Bosse is seated in his wheelchair with his mom beside him taking a selfie. They are outdoors in a beautiful green space with wild flowers. Collin is a young man with light skin, a baseball cap, and a navy shirt. His mom has light skin, blonde dyed hair in a ponytail, sunglasses, and a white V-neck shirt.

April 8, 2023, was simply the worst day of my life.

When Collin first sustained his spinal cord injury, I was just numb. In those early days, I went from screaming, “Why us?” to crying about the loss of his life as we knew it to anger, resentment, and jealousy over all the people out in the world who get to walk around without a fraction of this kind of burden or self-awareness.

There is a sense of grieving the loss of your son, even though he thankfully didn’t die. But all the hopes, dreams, and plans for the future that you invest in as a parent die.

Over the past six months, we have developed a rhythm—but every day is still a moment-to-moment experience.

Collin Bosse is in a hospital bed wearing a green hospital gown after a spinal cord injury with a neck brace and medical devices hooked up to him. He is smiling with light skin and short cropped dark hair. His sister is beside him with light skin, a face mask pulled down to her chin, and blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail. A building and city scene is visible from their window (they are not on the ground floor).

There is lingering trauma from the event for me, like when I hear ambulances, and an ongoing sense of shock. We’ve had to navigate the ups and downs of learning about all that is entailed with an SCI and its afterlife.

I’ve tried to quiet all the intense emotions I initially felt.

A slower pace of life tinged with a constant underlying fear is our new reality. The fact of the matter is that I can’t change what happened. What I can change is how I let myself react to it now.

I’m slowly allowing myself back some of the normal, everyday things—like putting on makeup, caring about what I wear each day, exercising, and eating sweet treats.

It sounds weird, but those were things I saw as something I didn’t deserve.

I am seeing a counselor weekly to work through some of these issues of guilt. As I keep finding my way forward, I’ve even run a half-marathon in Collin’s honor.

Holly Bosse, mom of client Collin Bosse, is running a half-marathon outdoors dressed in a blue tank top and black capri athletic pants with sneakers. She is giving a C sign with her left hand (C for Collin) and has light skin and blonde hair in a ponytail.

Everyone in our family is pretty matter of fact, and we all have a good sense of humor. While Collin is now living with paralysis from the chest down with limited arm and hand movement, as a family, we feel blessed that “our Collin” is still with us mentally.

Collin is still the same person he was before the injury—110%.

Spinal cord injury survivor Collin Bosse is a 23-year-old with light skin and a black snapback who is seated in his black wheelchair with his hands in his lap wearing cargo pants and a white t-shirt. Behind him is a marshland area.

It is hard for him to be the center of attention, but he has been able to really integrate into the SCI community in San Diego. He is surrounded by love and support, which we think will help him a lot in his recovery.

Collin goes on a Mexico surf trip with his uncle every year, and those men helped us fundraise for critical costs. All our friends and co-workers held fundraisers at a local eatery. Our local city lifeguards dedicated their Running of the Guards to Collin. A local brewery and wine company donated their space so Collin’s friend’s band could play a benefit concert. A friend designed shirts for our daughter to use in a fundraiser sale.

Collin’s SDSU college friends even bought him an Apple Watch to help him communicate when he can’t manage his phone. Those friends and his fraternity have been so supportive and helpful to his reintegration back to his life in San Diego.

Collin Bosse is at a baseball game with a friend. He is seated in his wheelchair and strapped in across the chest and he has light skin, a gray fitted cap, a white shirt, and a printed open button-down shirt over it. His friend is standing behind him and has light skin, curly brown hair, a mustache, shorts, and a tan San Diego baseball jersey. Behind them is a baseball stadium at night with players on the diamond and a sparkling green field under the stadium lights.

Amid all this support, we are so proud to call Santa Barbara home.

I’m a public-school teacher of 27 years and my husband has worked for the city for that time as well. We know many people in the community, and their support in this time has blown us away. We are honored and thankful.

Many people have donated, planned fundraisers, and covered the story in the news. That support is critical to us today in more ways than one: the financial burden of an SCI is significant.

The cost before insurance for Collin’s 12 days in the ICU and hospital was $750,000.

The jet for his transfer to a rehabilitation facility was $100,000. We haven’t even fully calculated the out-of-pocket cost of his stay at Craig Hospital for ongoing rehab.

Collin and his family are at Craig Rehabilitation with a Craig infographic visible on the wall behind them. Collin is seated in his wheelchair with short dark hair, light skin, a long-sleeved gray athletic jacket, and shorts. His sister is to his right with a gray long-sleeved shirt, light skin, and blonde hair. His mom behind her is similar in appearance with light skin and blonde hair too. His dad rests his left hand on Collin's shoulder and has light skin, short gray hair, tan pants, and a black quilted cold weather jacket.

And when you get home and want to continue with physical therapy, you realize that so much is out of pocket.

Home care is both hard to find and expensive. Adaptive chairs, bikes, and surfboards could improve his life, but they will cost thousands of dollars each.

Navigating what insurance will cover versus what we need is an ongoing struggle. Here’s just one example. Insurance approved the frame portion of a standing frame—which is a critical piece of equipment that will improve his blood pressure and enhance his health; however, they won’t cover the parts that make the standing frame function.

That leaves $6,000 for us out of pocket to actually secure a working standing frame.

Insurance has repeatedly denied our requests to cover an FES bike, which also has proven benefits to help avoid common post-injury issues and encourage long-term health and mobility—that’s $10,000 out of pocket.

Insurance approved only five physical therapy sessions at a time, which caused us to put his ongoing therapy on hold.

Collin and his parents are outdoors with a building and some manicured plants visible behind them in the sun. Collin is a young man with light skin, a ball cap, a gray long-sleeved shirt, and long pants who is seated in his black power chair with a strap across his chest and a neck brace. His mom has light skin and curly blonde hair and wears sneakers, an athletic hoodie, and capri-length athletic pants. His dad wears sneakers, shorts, and a navy t-shirt with a ball cap and sunglasses.

A more aggressive course of physical therapy at a gym is entirely out of pocket at $2,000 every five weeks.

Coming up, our biggest expense will be home help—the support he needs to get up, complete his bowel program, get showered, eat, and get back to bed again at night. We found one company so far that specializes in post-injury care but costs $40 per hour. To find cheaper care, we have to rely on home help without any reliable prior training in Collin’s unique health needs.

Celia Brewer is a friend of my husband’s through work, and her son had an injury years ago and pursued fundraising with Help Hope Live. That’s how we came to the nonprofit ourselves.

We are humble people who don’t like to ask for help—but one thing you learn quickly is to ask and accept help. Collin will need this skill for the rest of his life, so it’s a lesson best learned quickly for all of us.

With fundraising, my advice is don’t be shy.

People often want to help any way they can. Sometimes, donating is the easiest way for them to help—so give them a way to do that.

Post pictures and videos of progress. People really like seeing that.

We’ve had a lot of successful fundraising initiatives, including our t-shirt sales, a concert, and a local percentage-of-sales night at Kyle’s Kitchen. That night was especially memorable because Kyle is a special needs student from my school, so local folks love gathering there and are used to making donations to help others with special needs.

It’s a sad truth that everything becomes more accessible with money. That’s why we are so thankful for the generosity of others as we provide for Collin today.

One of the best things we’ve been able to cover thanks to fundraising is a bed that rotates Collin throughout the night.

Thanks to the bed, I don’t need to wake up every four hours and switch the position of the wedges that help him stay in position while he sleeps. That has been a godsend.

There is so much more to life with paralysis than we ever knew.

Collin Bosse is with a group of four friends in a downtown city setting with a public transportation trolley visible behind them. Collin is tilted back in his black power chair so that he is almost horizontal in his seated position. He has light skin, a camoflage ball cap, black fitted pants, a tan t-shirt, and gray sneakers. His friends are three young men with light skin and ball caps and one young woman with light skin and wavy blonde hair and a ball cap. Three of the friends wear what appears to be matching brown t-shirts with a bright yellow sticker or design on them.

It is less about “will Collin walk again” and more about how we’ll manage his bladder issues with his suprapubic catheter and check his skin twice per day for sores. It comes down to the day-to-day moments—like managing whether he can complete his bowel program or if he’ll have to worry about involuntary bowel movements while he’s out in public.

Even finding clothes to wear is a challenge.

Collin didn’t want to wear athletic wear that reminded him of the hospital once he was out of inpatient rehab—he wanted to wear his usual surfer-style clothing. We finally found soft and easy-to-put-on pants from a surf shop with no buttons or zippers on the back pocket: since he’s sitting in a chair all day, even these small features can cause major skin irritation that turns into a bed sore.

After we found those pants, we actually wrote to the surf shop letting them know how well they worked for him. They sent Collin more pants, shorts, t-shirts, and hats! It was a great surprise, and super uplifting.

Independence is our main goal for Collin.

Of course, we’d love to see him walk again—or even relieve himself again—on his own. But we’d also love to see him regain some finger movement to help with his own day-to-day needs like dressing and eating.

We had our whole life planned before this accident happened.

We are now working just to make sure Collin has what he needs to be safe. He works so hard at physical therapy, and in so many ways, all of us run on hope.

Collin Bosse uses a lokomat training device after a spinal cord injury. The device suspends him from above in a position so he can walk with assistance inside the device. Collin is a young man with light skin, short brown hair, a goofy expression, and a white t-shirt. He is watching a soccer game while he walks.

I feel that hope is my main driving force now.

I hope for a cure to reduce his spinal cord swelling. I hope for a winning lottery ticket that would make my worries about affording home care totally go away. I hope that Collin can go on, get a graduate degree, get a good-paying job, fall in love, start a family—all those things that able-bodied guys get a chance to access in their own futures.

Collin Bosse is seated outside a facility in his black power chair with a strap across his chest and a neck brace. Collin is a young man with light skin, sunglasses, and short cropped dark hair. He is with his sister, who has light skin, a black tank top, sunglasses, and blonde hair in a ponytail.

Collin has been able to join a Fantasy Football league with his physical therapy trainers and fellow SCI guys from his gym. We’ve been to the beach to support those guys in the US Open Adaptive Surfing Championship. His fraternity brothers come over every Sunday to watch football at our home. Collin is already looking at how he can get back to school and get his MBA.

I think Collin and the other SCI kids we’ve met may be the strongest people on this planet.

Life is hard with an SCI—for everyone in the family. But the men and women we’ve met with SCI are so helpful and welcoming. They truly “see” us.

It is this amazing group of people I never knew existed and never really thought about who have become my everything in this world.

Collin Bosse is on the beach with ocean water, blue skies, and a California coastal hill visible behind him. He is with six other men close to him in age, half of whom are seated in their wheelchairs or power chairs like Collin is. One of the standing men is holding a multi-colored striped surfboard that extends above his head and reads HIGH FIVES. Collin has light skin, a black ball cap, a white t-shirt, black pants, and a black strap across his chest connecting him to his black power chair. The other men are primarily shirtless with board shorts.

See the latest updates on Collin’s spinal cord injury fundraising campaign at Follow Collin and Holly on Instagram: @hbosse805 and @cboosney

Written by Emily Progin