If Arlaeeh Galindo had a van, she knows just where she’d take her five-year-old boy, Zakkary.
“He has been wanting to go back to the Griffith Observatory in Hollywood,” the Moreno Valley, California mom told me. “This kid, at the age of three, knew his planets, knew what order they went in, what size they were.”
The last time her son visited, she explained, “was before the accident.”
On Feb. 4, 2012, Zakkary Smith was in a near-fatal car crash. Galindo said an elderly driver ran a red light, striking the car her son was traveling in. Though he sat in a booster seat, Zakk sustained injuries that left him clinging to life. He suffered internal decapitation, which is just as horrific as it sounds: the separation of the skull from the spine. In Zakkary’s case, Galindo said, his spinal chord was stretched.
When Galindo arrived at the hospital, she found her son in a coma. Doctors assumed the worst, she said.
“They just kept coming in and saying, ‘Your son is going to be a vegetable,’” she remembered.
Despite what doctors said, Zakk regained consciousness after several days and, to his mother’s relief, his intelligence, personality and his sunny smile were still miraculously intact.
But due to his spinal cord injury, he had also lost feeling below his neck. Zakk was now a quadriplegic, dependent on a ventilator to breathe and on a wheelchair to move.
“I had to explain to him exactly what was going on,” Galindo said. “At the age of three, what child understands that something like that has happened to him?”
After months in the hospital, Zakk came home. Galindo, who is divorced from Zakk’s father, quit her job to care for him full time and the pair receive government assistance to pay for Zakk’s medical care.
With the help of a nurse who rides the school bus with him, Zach attends kindergarten and he is doing well at school, Galindo said. His one gripe, she said, is that other children treat him differently because of his medical condition.
“He just wants to be treated like he’s normal,” Galindo said.
Otherwise, she said, Zakkary is an optimistic kid who loves superheroes and action films — Iron Man and Real Steel are two favorites — and even enjoys watching his friends play games that he can’t.
“He’s the type of kid and he watches other kids play and to him, that’s enough — he gets enjoyment out of that,” Galindo said.
When he wakes up in the morning, she said, he greets her with a smile and says “Today is a new day.”
“He just knows that every day is different and anything can happen,” she said.
But lately, fewer things have been happening to Zakk because the used van his mother recently purchased has broken down beyond repair. Without a handicapped-accessible van, getting to the five-year-old’s many medical appointments is a challenge, let alone taking day trips to favorite spots like the Griffith Observatory.
How You Can Help Zakkary Smith
Galindo has entered a contest to win a wheelchair-accessible vehicle for Zakk. Held by the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association, at least four winners will receive customized vehicles. To improve Zakk’s chances of winning, you can sign in to the NMEDA website and vote for him here every day until voting ends on May 9. Voters can also earn extra votes by correctly answering a daily trivia question; Galindo posts answers to the questions every day on the Zakk’s Wheels Facebook page.
I voted and it took me about five minutes. I hope you choose to do the same. With any luck, Zakk will soon be peering into a giant telescope. Even a wheelchair can’t confine you when you have stars in your eyes.
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Photos courtesy the Galindo Family.