Grand Haven resident Kim Talaga’s Mother’s Day present won’t come with a bow and ribbon this year.
The gift arrived almost daily over the last six weeks from unexpected places, in friendly and smiling faces, in prayers, hope and promise.
Talaga’s motherhood role changed instantly in one shattered April 1 moment. Unfortunately, it was no April Fool’s Day joke when her cell phone rang while she was vacationing in Florida. The caller was a Colorado-based helicopter pilot who was transporting her eldest son from the scene of a Winter Park resort skiing accident to a nearby Denver hospital. Jared, a Grand Haven High School senior, had broken his neck and was paralyzed from the chest down during a spring break turned tragic.
When something in her child’s spinal cord broke, something in the mom’s heart broke, too.
Life has not been the same. Talaga is in class to help retrain her son to do everything she had taught him years ago — how to walk, how to cook, how to use the computer and how to function in daily life. He’s confined to a wheelchair. Part of her heart shares the chair.
She wishes she could change the incident, or like a mother would, wishes she could take the pain upon herself instead of watching her child endure it.
“I just wish it was me instead,” said Talaga. “I keep thinking that to myself. He has his whole life ahead of him. There was a ski jump in back of some condos and there was playground equipment there. He’s a really good skier. He was all-conference (Grand Haven High School) in skiing. It’s not like he didn’t know how to ski but he couldn’t duck in time.”
Jared’s forehead struck a piece of playground equipment which fractured his neck in the C-6/C-7 area where the neck meets the back. He immediately was airlifted to a Denver hospital, where he spent 10 days in intensive care. He then was transferred to Colorado’s Craig Hospital, one of the top four facilities in the world for spinal damage Rehabilitation.
Talaga isn’t giving up on her son’s future mobility and the power of prayer.
As far as she’s concerned, the future is bright. She said she feels overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and compassion from the Tri-Cities community. Local Realtor Fred Warber chipped in to sell her house at no commission. Grand Haven High School ski coach Todd Bosgraff of Bosgraff Custom Homes is heading up a remodeling project for a new barrier-free home in anticipation of Jared’s end of July return to Grand Haven.
Church members, family, friends and neighbors send cards and well wishes almost daily and are planning a July 7 fundraiser for the Talaga family. The location is yet to be determined.
Talaga flies to Colorado every three weeks to visit her son at Englewood’s Craig Hospital. She’ll be there on Mother’s Day, to share quality time with Jared, who two days ago was transferred to a new room with a kitchen so he can re-learn independent living skills.
“It’s almost like a little apartment,” Talaga said before departing for Colorado on Friday. “I’ll be able to stay overnight with him there. This will give him more independence. I have to go to classes and be completely trained before he comes home. I have to be fully educated about spinal injuries.”
If all goes as planned, Jared should be back in Grand Haven by the end of July. He may require further rehabilitation at that time, which will take place at Grand Rapids’ Mary Free Bed Hospital.
Talaga, a customer relations and marketing specialist for the Grand Haven/Spring Lake Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said without support of the local community, this Mother’s Day may have been a bust.
“Friends in the community have given me free tickets and frequent flyer miles,” said Talaga. “I’ve received so much support from everybody. I try to get there every three weeks.”
Talaga has raised sons Jared, 17 and Kris, 16, alone for the last six years. She and her husband divorced in 2001 and her ex-husband has since moved to China.
“It’s hard,” said Talaga. “I’ve been taking care of both boys since the divorce. There’s never been a year since I’ve had those boys that I’ve been away from either one of them on Mother’s Day. But this year is totally different. I can’t be in two places at once. I’ll be in Denver. I wish Kris could be with us but he has a (Grand Haven High School) tennis conference in Jenison. I just need to be with Jared this year and Kris understands.”
Jared was a member of the Buccaneer varsity ski and tennis teams. He’s scheduled to graduate June 3. Talaga said school officials said he has enough credits to make that happen.
“He’s getting extra credit for going to spinal cord injury classes every day (at Craig Hospital),” Talaga said. “The official graduation is June 3 and I will be out there with him (in Colorado) on graduation day to celebrate.”
Talaga sees much more to celebrate this Mother’s Day — the generosity of the Tri-Cities community.
“It’s amazing to me as a mom to see all these caring people,” Talaga said. “Every day more cards come in the mail, friends visit Jared in Colorado and more positive things happen. Prayer has been so good for us.”
Talaga was advised by the hospital that she needed a barrier-free handicapped house and it came about. The next-door neighbor of Talaga’s close friend agreed to sell her such a home in Grand Haven, which he and his wife had just purchased
“The house was built many years ago for a handicapped man,” Talaga said. “My good friend Peggy lives next door. She said the new people who bought it two months ago never moved into the house. I wrote them a two-page letter and left it on the doorstep. The owners had read about the prayers for Jared in the St. Patrick’s bulletin. They met with me. The house wasn’t listed. It wasn’t for sale. But they let me buy it. This kind of stuff just doesn’t happen. And my house sold today (Thursday). It’s all working out. Today I learned that Jared went swimming.”
It’s not the kind of swimming where Jared dives off a diving board and swims non-stop, but it’s a start.
“It’s a life experience for him there,” Talaga said. “It’s not just a hospital. They want to teach him how to cook and use the computer and do everything on his own which is important for a young person.”
Talaga said her son is strong at heart, and Mother’s Day will be special simply because of their sharing time together.
“Right now we’re hoping for the best but the doctors are so vague,” said Talaga. “There are so many things that can happen in the first six months after a severe spinal cord injury. Right now he’s paralyzed from the chest down but we’re hoping that will change. He’s such a positive kid and has a really good outlook. He works hard on his recovery every day.”
Talaga is working hard, too, applying for grants to cover Jared’s medical and rehab expenses.
As for Jared? “I’m so tired and I’m very happy that she is here,” he said Friday after his mom arrived at the hospital.
Call 842-1661 to contribute or visit www.carepages.com to send a note or check on Jared’s progress.
BY MARIE HAVENGA