Attorney Richard Galli’s memoir, Rescuing Jeffrey
(2000), details the ten days immediately following the tragic accident that left his son a quadriplegic. When seventeen-year-old Jeffrey Galli suffers a spinal cord injury after diving into a pool and striking his head, Richard Galli struggles to come to terms with his son’s paralysis. Richard convinces himself and his wife, Toby, that the best thing for his son would be to withdraw life support, but ultimately changes his mind. In Rescuing Jeffrey
, Richard shares his memories and thought processes as he wrestles with what is best for his son. Richard honestly expresses his personal and emotive views about religion and addresses the controversial issue of euthanasia.
On July 4, 1998, the Galli family attends a backyard party. A kid tells Richard that Jeffrey is in the pool, underwater, and not moving. Richard and Toby rush to find Jeffrey floating near the bottom. They pull him out and see that his lips and protruding tongue are blue. Richard begins breathing into his nose. Medical professionals at the party announce that Jeffrey has a steady pulse. Richard is relieved, believing “we brought him back to life.”
At the hospital, however, they learn that Jeffery’s injury is severe, “as bad as it gets.” When he hit his head, he fractured bones in his cervical spine and injured his spinal cord. Jeffrey is a “high quadriplegic,” paralyzed from the neck down, and unable to breathe on his own. He will require 24-hour care for the rest of his life and may, someday, be able to move his head from side to side.
Family and friends gather in the family lounge of the pediatric intensive care unit, offering hope. Richard feels it is his responsibility as a father to think and act clearly and decisively. He believes that the idea of “where there’s life there’s hope,” is about as useful as wishing in the wind. Richard adopts a rational approach: the “disposition of Jeffrey’s life” is his project, and he wants to do the right thing for Jeffrey.
Richard considers Jeffrey’s life. Over the last year, Jeffrey withdrew from the family, getting into fights and arguments. Jeffrey struggled in school, flunking many of his classes. After being diagnosed with major depression, Jeffrey started medication and began improving his life. Richard and Jeffrey rebuild a car. Richard plans a basketball court in their yard for Jeffrey and his fourteen-year-old daughter, Sarah. Richard knows Jeffrey is feeling positive about his future and his approaching independence.
Now, Jeffrey’s head is held immobile by a halo—a band of graphite circling his head and bolted into his skull, attached by stiff rods to a halo vest on his chest. He is in a drugged sleep most of the time, unable to talk around a ventilator tube and unable even to cry. Whenever he wakes, they must tell Jeffrey again what has happened. Richard believes that Jeffrey would not want to live life as a paraplegic. He feels that Jeffrey cannot have a high quality of life and that Jeffrey will always blame himself for his condition.
Richard and Toby consider “Option 1:” a stay in a rehabilitation hospital for Jeffrey followed by home care. They worry about how they will be able to care for Jeffrey’s extensive needs at home. Richard reads books by Christopher Reeve and Travis Roy, both famous figures paralyzed in the same way as Jeffrey. Richard believes the books offer false examples for real people: like pretending Tom Cruise is a “typical young man in America.” Richard tells Toby they should withdraw life support, and Toby agrees.
Toby and Richard let the medical staff know they are considering “Option 2,” euthanasia. Various doctors advise them to wait, as there is still a window for Jeffrey to improve. They say that Jeffrey’s brain is alive and functioning and he will be able to talk and interact with his environment. Richard, however, asks the hospital to begin the euthanasia review process. Jeffrey is still a minor and Richard and Toby can make the decision without Jeffrey’s consent. They do not want Jeffrey to know what they are thinking and have him be “terrified.” They continue to present a positive attitude to Jeffrey about his future.
Toby’s family rabbi, Rabbi Gutterman, offers his wisdom and comfort. Former law partners start a collection and trust fund for Jeffrey. Loving friends and family support the Gallis with visits, books, food, movies for Jeffrey, positive messages, and prayers. Richard does not believe in the power of prayer and has “no tolerance for dogma.” Rather, things happen by chance. Richard feels like a “River” of compassionate friends is working for Jeffrey.
Jeffrey begins speaking by blinking his eyes at letters as Richard recites the alphabet, slowly forming words. Jeffrey initially feels that his life is over. Jeffrey suffers panic attacks and feels as if he is choking. The immobility is horrible for him. He gets an infection and suffers high fevers. Still, the idea of being able to move in a wheelchair gives him “hope.”
Family friends Gary and Matt St. Peter come to visit with Richard and Jeffrey, and they light a spark of joy in Jeffrey. Jeffrey comments that he is “glad he didn’t die.” Richard suggests that they all get together again next Fourth of July and set off an explosion. He realizes that by saying this “I had invited my son to live long enough to set it off.” Richard feels that the River of kindly friends swept him away from his euthanasia decision. Richard adds that Jeffrey was able to push aside “the only force that was actually strong enough—or weak enough—to kill him: his dad.”
In a postscript, Richard shares that Jeffrey came home in November of 1998 and returned to high school in January 1999. Jeffrey is able to surf the web, use e-mail, listen to music, and operate the television.