Colleen Skala-Mallers believes in guardian angels. There is one watching over her youngest son, she said.
Colleen is the mother of 6-year-old Eric Mallers, who was struck by and dragged underneath a van at the Circle Avenue overpass almost three weeks ago.
Eric and his older brother, Matthew, had spent the Saturday night prior to the accident at a friend’s house. When Colleen called to check on the boys around 11 o’clock Sunday morning, they were playing video games and she decided to wait to pick them up.
An hour and a half later, Colleen got the call that Eric had been hit by a car.
When she rushed to the scene of the accident and saw Eric lying motionless under the van, Colleen feared the worst.
“This cannot happen. Please don’t take my baby away,” she remembered saying.
Colleen’s husband, Matt, arrived as emergency crews were pulling Eric out from under the vehicle.
“I remember the look of fear on my husband’s face,” said Skala-Mallers. “We’ve known each other for, what, five years now? I’ve never seen him so scared.”
Police officers who responded to the accident told the couple it was one of the worst they had ever seen, she said.
Despite the severity of the accident, Eric has returned home from the hospital and is getting stronger every day. By all accounts, his recovery has been dramatic.
“In the days following the accident, everything that could go right, did,” Mallers said of his son’s recovery.
Lynn Yopchick, Eric’s first-grade teacher at Garfield Elementary, first got word the day after the accident that her student had been struck. Initially, she heard rumors that Eric had been killed.
“When I learned about it before school Monday, I felt sick to my stomach,” Yopchick said.
Skala-Mallers called Garfield’s principal before school that morning and dispelled rumors about Eric’s condition, letting them know that Eric was in the hospital. Nevertheless, Eric’s classmates were very concerned.
“He is one of the leaders in the class, so everyone just loves him,” Yopchick said. “Even though we were telling them Eric was okay, until they saw him, they had fear.”
Shortly after arriving at Loyola Hospital, Eric underwent a series of tests. He was repeatedly examined by four teams of doctors – trauma, pediatric, neurological and orthopedic – who concluded that Eric’s relatively healthy condition was nothing short of miraculous.
Though he was initially hooked up to a respirator, Eric’s vitals were strong. Within days, he was taken off the breathing machine and when it came time to remove his neck brace, Eric was able to move his head.
The fractures in Eric’s pelvic area became the doctors’ biggest concern. But it was determined that those would heal without surgery. His mother can admit now that she wasn’t convinced until four days after the accident that her son would fully recover. That day, at 3 p.m., Eric sat up in his hospital bed and endured his first session of physical therapy.
The following Friday, Eric walked for the first time since the accident. With the help of a walker, he made it halfway down the hall and back.
Today, Eric can walk around the house and up stairs, though his parents or older brother Matthew are always by his side.
His doctors predict that, with regular physical therapy sessions, he will be able to return to school within four to six weeks, said his parents.
“It’s the hardest thing because Eric wants to do everything on his own,” his mother said. “We had to be stern with him and drill in his head that he can’t do things on his own yet.”
Young Eric has enjoyed a little taste of celebrity through the ordeal. His friends and classmates cheer whenever they see him, and Eric and his brother got a chance to meet the mayor, who gave them a tour of his office.