Rescuing Jeffrey

A father’s memoir recounts 10 days in the aftermath of his son’s devastating accident.3_v

 ”Rescuing Jeffrey” is Galli’s account of the 10 days that began with the accident on July 4, 1998, and that placed him and his wife, Toby, in the tormenting rack of this question. Rescuing Jeffrey recounts his reaction to dealing with the event and its aftermath.

RESCUING JEFFREY is the story of a tragic diving accident where 17-year-old Jeffrey Galli makes one last dive into a pool that alters the course of his life and that of his family. The book is written by his father Richard, who along with his wife, pulls his son from the bottom of the pool and then spends the next 10 days wondering if he should have saved him — and if he should “rescue” him again, this time by unplugging his life support.

In the first few days, it is clear from Richard’s notes to himself that he believes Jeffrey’s new life will not be worth living, and that they should let his life end. It seems that Toby is in agreement on this. They find out what steps they would have to go through in order to turn off Jeffrey’s breathing support, and they meet with experts and the hospital ethics committee.

The professionals convince them that they can wait a few days. As parents, they have the legal right to make the decision to discontinue life support until Jeffrey’s eighteenth birthday, which is not until the following November. But they want to find out more about what Jeffrey’s new life could realistically be like. They read the memoirs of Christopher Reeve and Travis Roy, but they know Jeffrey’s life will be nothing like these role models, because he lacks their resources and their achievements.

Galli writes from the viewpoint of a father who knows well what his son has been denied by this accident — and his own grief. Each time he notes what his son will miss — driving his own car, dating, skiing, holding a child — it brings another raw hurt. When he visualizes the future he sees a wheelchair, a converted van, a redesigned home full of ramps, and a limited life.

Somewhere over these 10 days, Jeffrey’s will to live becomes stronger than any other force, and any uncertainty about preserving this life is abandoned. Instead Galli becomes an advocate in another way, ensuring that the care and quality of life his son does have is of the highest level.

Richard and Toby visit some nursing homes for people who need full-time care, but it soon becomes clear that their son’s injury is too severe for even these facilities, and that the only place Jeffrey will be able to stay is at home. They know that Jeffrey’s life span is likely to be severely shortened by his injury, but that there is still a high probability that they will eventually reach an age when they do not have the physical strength to look after Jeffrey at home. So there is a strong chance that, at some point in his life if he lives into his thirties and forties, Jeffrey will have to be taken into a facility a long way from their home in Rhode Island, where he would be looked after by strangers.

Richard found himself with two options, which is ultimately what Rescuing Jeffrey is about. The first option was Jeffrey becoming part of the system. He would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair getting 24/7 nursing support for his basic activities of daily living. He would never play basketball in his driveway, drive his own car, go for dating, skiing, and holding a child. The second option was pulling his life support (which they would have been able to do since Jeffery was under 18). Though Richard hated both options, he was leaning toward the second. He spoke with his wife about this, and the plan to remove life support was set in motion. The rest of the story focuses on the couple’s discussions with each other and the hospital team (who was against taking Jeffrey off life support), and figuring out what they would say to family and friends who would likely disagree with their decision. They also struggled with letting Jeffrey be a part of the decision and tried talking him into wanting to live.

From Richard’s reconstruction of those ten days, it seems that there were two factors that changed their mind about ending their son’s life. First was the acknowledgment that Jeffrey should have some part in deciding whether he lives or dies. Second was being given the assurance from a physician, whose name is never mentioned, that he would be ready to help Jeffrey terminate his life support if that was what Jeffrey and his family wanted.

This is an important book for anyone interested in the rights of the disabled, the responsibilities of parents to their disabled children, the quality of life of people with severe spinal injuries and on medical ethics.

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