ANGELS COME IN ALL SHAPES AND SIZES
Five years after a fall in Thailand left her paralysed, Sam Bloom and her family are rebuilding their lives and setting new goals. The injured magpie chick who helped them heal has flown the nest but her inspiration remains as Sam starts the next chapter and takes part in ground-breaking spinal cord research in Sydney.
Sam Bloom says she was the fittest she had probably ever been when she fell twenty feet while on a family holiday with her husband Cameron and three boys, Rueben, 16, Noah, 14 and Oliver, now 12. “I went to the gym, mountain biked and surfed, I’ve always surfed. I liked doing quite a lot of these activities on my own.”
Fiercely independent, Sam says it is still the thing she most struggles to come to terms with. “I hate having to ask someone to help me exercise, I’m not the person I was since the accident.” She fell through a rotten barrier on an observation deck of a hotel in Thailand in 2013. Her spine was shattered, her skull fractured and both lungs ruptured from the fall. Sam almost died. Following weeks in hospital and months in rehabilitation, she returned to her Bilgola home but admits to feeling deeply depressed and hopeless.
Then help arrived in the form of an injured magpie chick the family christened Penguin, because she looked like a penguin. The idea was to keep Penguin safe and warm until she could leave but she decided to stay – for two years.
“She lived inside and outside and could come and go as she pleased and she pooed everywhere,” laughs Sam. “She used to fly in and sit on my shoulder and she was my sounding board and I whinged to her and talked to her and she was great company.”
Sam says being back in her beloved family home initially felt a little like being on house arrest and the beautiful views up and down the coast taunted her with all the things she could no longer do. “I complained to Cameron all the time and so it was good to have someone else to vent to,” she explains.
Sam spent days with Penguin but she was part of the family too with Cameron and the boys also spending time with her. “She could come and go as she pleased but she chose to be here,” explains Cameron. “I think she liked being with us and this was her safe place although other magpies would bomb her when she went outside sometimes. The boys would run out to rescue her and then she would be really sooky for a few days.”
Penguin plus Sam’s unfailing family support and personal determination, saw her pull out of the initial despair she felt and she has made great progress in terms of her fitness, health and achieving a positive look at the future.
A registered nurse, she represented Australia at the world championships for para-canoe in 2015. “I complained that I couldn’t do anything I’d done before, so I started paddling once a week, then twice a week and it grew from there,” she adds. Not one to do things by half, Sam started to take part in races and got a coach, going on to represent Australia at the world titles in Italy. “2015 was a really busy year, I was paddling five times a week and going to the gym. I was super busy and active and loved it,” Sam adds.
She trains at Sargood, a world-first resort for people with spinal cord injuries in Collaroy. She says it’s the one place she feels ‘completely normal’. Sargood is designed for complete ease of movement for wheelchair users and has a gym fully kitted out for people with spinal cord injuries. “I’m really lucky to have that so close to home. I go to the gym and to hang out with friends. It’s a really special place,” she adds.
It was when Sam was in Italy and the night before the family were due to join her, that Penguin, finally left. “She had been coming and going a bit by then but with us all going to be away it was perfect timing. But we do miss her,” she adds.
The story of the injured chick who joined the family and helped them in their darkest of times, is the subject of a book ‘Penguin Bloom’ with photographs by Cameron, who began his career as a surf photographer at 16 and has gone on to have his work featured in publications ranging from the New York Times and Time Magazine to Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue.
A feature film of the book and the story is also in the pipeline. Australian talent Shaun Grant has written the screenplay from the book that was optioned by Naomi Watts, Reese Witherspoon and Bruna Papandrea for a film that will star Watts. The trio is producing the film with Aussie-based producer Emma Cooper and are currently in discussion with directors.
And the Bloom family is moving on too. Sam now has a specially adapted bike that means she can get out and about enjoying the trail around Narrabeen Lake, she has been back in the surf alongside son Noah and goes to the gym regularly. She also has a personal trainer, Mandy Burlinson, who she works with every week.
Sam is also taking part in a clinical trial at the University of Technology in Sydney (UTS) that is giving hope to people with spinal cord injuries. The project is a partnership between UTS, SpinalCure Australia and Spinal Cord Injuries Australia (SCIA), focusing on epidural electrical stimulation, one of the most promising avenues of research in spinal injury. The treatment, described as like ‘currents of electricity jump-starting the spinal cord’ involves the placement of a small electrode against the spinal cord below the site of injury. It is hoped that, in combination with pharmacological treatment, it can achieve promising results.
“I’m lucky because I have amazing support but I would just love not to be sitting down all the time,” says Sam. She doesn’t imagine the clinical trials will be a simple solution but she is ready for the challenge and is going to bring her determination to that as she does to the rest of her life.
Cameron Bloom, Bradley Trevor Greive and ABC Books are proud to donate a percentage of royalties from the sale of each copy of Penguin Bloom to support SpinalCure Australia. Every day another Australian is paralysed by a spinal cord injury. For more information about how SpinalCure funds medical research to find a cure for this devastating condition go to www.spinalcure.org.au
SAM + CAMERON BLOOM AT LITERARY LUNCH, Wednesday, March 28, 2018, 12:00noon to 2:00 PM, at the Royal Motor Yacht Club, 46 Prince Alfred Parade, Newport, NSW, 2106. Members - $65 / non-members - $70. Lunch is included and copies of their book Penguin Bloom will be available for $28 with Sam and Cameron available to sign copies. Bookings essential - call 99975511 or go to www.royalmotor.com.au