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7's HERO: Nampa mother celebrates son's survival after snowboarding accident

Gabe Spoolstra is a Marine, stationed in California. A snowboarding crash almost ended his life, but his mom says prayers and community support kept them going.

NAMPA, Idaho — Susie Spoolstra-Kelley is celebrating the survival of her youngest son, Gabe. He came home to visit his family in Nampa this summer, after recovering from a terrible snowboarding accident. 

In February of 2022, she got a late night call that every parent fears. Gabe was in the Intensive Care Unit in a Southern California Hospital. 

"He actually did die and was brought to life," said Spoolstra-Kelley. "When I went into his room I didn't think he would ever be okay."

Gabe Spoolstra is a proud Marine. He was raised here in Idaho, and he's now stationed in California. He loves to snowboard, and he found a great place to do it near his base, Big Bear Mountain.

"On February 20th, around 1 o'clock I'd say, he Facetimed me from Big Bear Mountain going up the ski lift," said Spoolstra-Kelley. "He said, 'hey mom how are you doing, it's so beautiful here.'"

That was the day Gabe's world quickly changed.

"I would never have expected to have something happen like this," Gabe told KTVB. 

He crashed on his snowboard, and was found unresponsive on the side of the mountain. Emergency first responders suspected a massive brain injury. He was rushed to the hospital and his mom's phone rang hours later. 

"Then I get a call from Loma Linda hospital, a social worker. And she just asked me the worst question I could ever be asked," said Susie. "She said 'can you identify your son by his tattoos?' I lost my breath, literally lost my breath."

Susie, still grieving the heartbreaking loss of her oldest son Zach, couldn't believe what she was hearing. Zach Spoolstra was killed by a drunk driver in 2018. He was hit while riding his motorcycle.

"'Is he okay, is he alive, I've already lost one son! I really need you to tell me if he's okay,'" Susie said she asked the social worker. "They requested me at his bedside which is never a good thing. I drove straight to California."

On the long and grueling drive to California, Susie felt helpless. She decided to ask for prayers on her Facebook page.

"I pulled over and put a post out there. I just felt like I needed to ask everyone to pray for him. I was told he probably won't survive until I get there," said Susie. "It just went like wildfire."

The prayers and words of support were pouring in on social media as she drove all those miles from Idaho. But, when she arrived at Loma Linda Hospital, nothing could have prepared her for what she was about to see. 

"When I walked into the hospital it was the worst possible scenario you can imagine," said Susie, through tears. "He was having seizures, he was intubated. He wasn't my big strong son, my Marine, and it was heartbreaking. I just held his hand, I don't think I ate for three days, I stood there and held his hand and prayed for him. I prayed to the Lord to please let him open his eyes for the first time."

Incredibly, Gabe did open his eyes. Susie said he looked right at her. His doctors were blown away. 

"It was amazing," she said. "Medically speaking he shouldn't be here right now. Most of them say he's a miracle."

"I don't remember waking up, nothing." said Gabe. 

Susie stayed to help with Gabe's recovery for three months. He had a long way to go, he had to use a wheelchair while he relearned to use the left side of his body. She documented it all on Facebook for friends and family, so they could see his progress.

"That's when I started posting updates every day, because literally the healing was so accelerated. Day after day there was a different miracle."

Looking back, Gabe says it's all a blurr. 

"I remember bits and pieces through rehab, but when I was in the ICU and critical care I don't remember anything. But, I worked hard. I'm a Marine, so I have discipline more than most people. I did not like being in a wheelchair," said Gabe. "I just kept on giving it 110%. I had to get back."

Six months later, he is thriving, and he has big goals.

"Well, I would like to work towards becoming an inspirational speaker. 

He has a message for people who are struggling. 

"Just keep pushing, just find something inside of you that keeps you going," Gabe said. 

This mother and son said the support they have received from the community has been unbelievable. The prayers, messages of support, donations. It all means the world.  

"If I could hug every person out there who prayed for my son, I would. I can't express, there's not a word adequate in my vocabulary to say how grateful I am to all who prayed for him," said Susie. 

Gabe said he has been so touched by all the love from our community. 

"Thank you for praying for my mom, too, because she has truly been through more than any other mom," Gabe said. 

Gabe is now back in California with the Marines, continuing his recovery. He says the military has been with him every step of the way, providing top notch care. 

Here's a list of the donors Susie and Gabe would like to thank: 

  • Rayna Scott & Botanicals for Susie
  • The Withered Barn - Homedale
  • Second Chance - Weiser
  • BeYoutiful Redesigns - Meridian
  • Ruby Bloom - Caldwell
  • Mail Room n' More / Cup of Joe n' Gifts to Go - Nampa
  • Stories Unveiled - FB /IG - Boise
  • River Rose Designs LLC - FB - Nampa
  • Beauty from Ashes Studios - FB/IG - Nampa

Watch more '7's Hero'

See all of the heartwarming segments in our YouTube playlist here:

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