Jeffrey Galli forges ahead at URI
In Jeffrey Galli's public speaking class at the University of Rhode Island, students pass around a visual aid from one student's presentation.
When the item reaches Galli's desk, he turns his head, the only part of his body he can move, as fellow student Nicole Marchand holds it out for him. Without pausing, she lets him smell it and look at it. They share a smile and brief conversation.
Earlier in Professor C. B. Peters' sociology class, Galli participated in small group discussions relating to race, inclusion, and exclusion. However, when it came time to register class opinion through applause, Galli's hands were quiet. It's not that he didn't want to join in the clapping. He can't. On July 4, 1998, a diving accident left him paralyzed from the neck down.
Now just a little more than two years later, Galli is a freshman at URI, carrying a three-course workload. While he shares the usual struggles of any freshman, like forgetting his notes the day he is scheduled to give a speech, he also faces challenges most will never be able to fathom.
On school days, his routine begins at 4:45 a.m. so he can be on time for his 10 a.m class with Peters. Before he is even awakened, a nurse gets the 19-year-old ready by doing range-of-motion and flexibility exercises. "We do these exercises so I don't tighten up, and so if I ever regain function, my muscles will be able to work. It keeps me loose," Galli said. The nurse puts on his clothes and attaches the pacemaker that allows him to breathe and talk.
He wakes at 7 a.m. and is lifted into his $25,000 wheelchair by an overhead hoist. By 8:30 it's off to class with his father Richard, and his nurse in a $44,000 converted mini-van. Galli powers his way to class puffing on a straw that activates his wheelchair. As he listens to Peters, other students stroll in late trying to find seats in the Chafee auditorium.
"I really like sociology class," Galli says. "That's a great class to start with. I participate as much as I can. My teachers have been great at accommodating my needs for testing."
"Anybody who says they understand what is going on with Jeffrey is simply mistaken," Peters said. "Because of my class size (528 students) Jeff is in many ways just another student. But in other ways, he is not. All of us are still learning. I have never had a student like Jeff, and I am trying to make his experience as full and rich as possible."
Jeffrey is asked if he feels well, because he looks healthy and alert. But he answers emphatically. "No, I want to get up and run around. All I can do is sit around. I am well enough to go back to school, so why just sit around? It's about the best thing I can do with my time," Galli said.
Galli's father Richard, a URI journalism graduate who has written a nationally acclaimed book, Rescuing Jeffrey, about the 10 days following the accident, added: "Jeffrey only looks so healthy because of the years we've spent trying to get the right body support for his wheelchair. You take away the lateral support and the padding and he collapses."
"I asked Jeff what obstacles he faces here at URI, and he told the class the biggest one is meeting people," said Kirsten Maar, Galli's public speaking instructor. "He explained that it is easier for him to approach people than for people to approach him. I am thrilled to have him in my class because Jeff forces us to throw out every misconception we have about disabilities."
Back in the public speaking class, Galli's classmate Nicole Marchand talks about how she tries to put herself in his place. "One student gave a speech about chocolate and passed around individual chocolates to the class, but no one gave one to Jeffrey. I opened one up, told him my hands were clean and popped one into his mouth. Everyone needs chocolate."
To find out more about the book, Rescuing Jeffrey, and about Jeffrey, check out http://www.gallilaw.com/rescuing.htm
By Dave Lavallee