Penguin Bloom, a Sydney woman’s true, raw story of renewal.

Monday, September 06, 2021

As a financial and insurance advisor, I’m well aware that accidents happen. Protecting against the unexpected is the whole point of insurance. Still, I was deeply shocked when I heard about the horrific accident of a client, Sam Bloom, whose brave, brave story is shared in the book and film Penguin Bloom.

I remember Sam and Cameron Bloom, back in 2011. They’d been referred to me by their accountant for insurance advice. An active, outdoorsy couple who’d travelled to adventurous places around the world and were now settled into family life on Sydney’s sunny northern beaches with their three young boys. Life was good.

Fast forward a number of months, and one fateful moment changed everything.

The Blooms were on their first overseas family holiday in Thailand, out and about exploring beautiful beaches and nature. They climbed the stairs to the top of an old building for a better look at the views. Sam leaned against the safety railing, with no way of knowing the wooden support had rotted and was about to give way. Sam fell three storeys onto hard, tiled ground, suffering near-fatal, devastating spinal and head injuries, in full view of her husband and children.

I was shocked to the core when I heard the news.

Of course, my feelings of shock weren’t even a speck in the ocean compared to what Sam must have endured - and still faces on a daily basis.

When something like this happens to somebody you’ve known, though, it seems to strike harder as a reminder of how drastically things can change in the blink of an eye - try as we might to steer our lives safely in the right direction.

For Sam Bloom and her family, life would certainly never be the same again.

The severe spinal injury left her paralysed from the chest down. A cruel blow for anyone, and especially for someone so passionate about surfing and the outdoors, and so actively engaged as a mum, wife and all-round dynamic woman.

It’s astounding that Sam survived. It’s a testament to her incredible bravery, the unerring love of her incredible husband and family, the support of close friends, and to the medical teams who saved and have cared for her over the years.

Sam’s story was captured in the award-winning international bestseller Penguin Bloom written by Bradley Trevor Grieve with exquisite photography by Cameron. The film Penguin Bloom adapted from the book, stars Naomi Watts and Andrew Lincoln, with stunning cinematography and acting performances across the board. It was only after reading and watching both that I could even begin to fathom the physical and emotional agony Sam has experienced, as well as the huge challenges for Cameron and the boys.

Sam suffered unimaginable, relentless physical pain. Heartbreakingly, she had to watch family life ‘from the sidelines’ as Cameron (what an incredible bloke) fully stepped in as an unerringly devoted husband, carer and parent. Darkness and depression threatened to overwhelm as Sam grappled with her new existence, unable to function as she did before as a vibrant, active wife, mother, and independent woman.

For Cameron, there was the constant worry and care for Sam, plus taking over the day-to-day as primary parent, and doing his best to stay positive when ‘every day was like a funeral.’ Not to mention the despair at seeing his beloved wife in such pain and the fear of forever losing her to the darkness. The young children had to carry the burden of having witnessed the accident, as well as watching their mum’s excruciating daily battles.

Amazingly, their story is also rich with hope, compassion and recovery.

In a gorgeous parallel, an injured magpie - who the kids name ‘Penguin’ - enters the Blooms’ lives. Penguin is a cute, cheeky bird who becomes an adored member of the family. Her adorable connection with the Blooms and strength in recovery bring happiness back to the household, lifting Sam’s spirits and helping the whole family heal.

What I can say is that I highly recommend you read the book and watch the film. Both are exquisite.

While I don’t want to add any spoilers about the rest of Sam Bloom’s incredible journey, something in the book really struck me. Sam offers her personal perspective on adjusting and coping, with ‘brutally honest’ advice on the recovery process for anyone who has suffered a serious spinal injury or become paralysed. She also suggests insightful, practical ways to support someone you know with spinal injury or paralysis. I’ve never read anything quite like it, and it’s something I think everyone should read. Brute courage, determination, grace, human kindness and compassion are words that come to mind yet don’t do justice to hers.

As a financial advisor, it’s heartening to think that the protection package I put in place for Sam helped provide relief when her earning capacity was lost. Naturally, no amount of money can make up for the extreme impact of an accident like Sam’s. But having a package of protection does mean one less worry in the event of a disaster and allows fuller focus on recovery and wellbeing. It also helps pay for school books, school fees, uniforms, kids’ sports, food, bills, and rent or mortgage payments. It reminds me of the value of what I do for a living - advising options to shore up your financial future - especially at a time when changes are coming.

Sweeping changes will affect income protection insurance policies from October 2021. Income protection is a type of insurance that pays part of your income if you're unable to work due to an accident or injury - such as severe spinal injury. Under the new system, benefits paid will be measured by actual earnings at the time you became unable to work, and not on a prior agreed amount. It means benefits could be significantly less generous, so it’s imperative to get proper advice to avoid overpaying premiums or not being properly protected. Note - if you are currently considering a package of protection, you’ll be better off locking in a policy before October 2021.

While no insurance payout could ever restore Sam Blooms’ life to what it once was, there is some hope on the horizon for people living with serious spinal injury. She points out that groundbreaking medical research will eventually help restore feeling and function through repair of damaged nerves, spinal cord implants, cell transplant electroacupuncture and epidural spinal stimulators. It’s a matter of when, not if. The challenge is one of fundraising.

A portion of author royalties from book sales - also matched dollar for dollar by the publisher HarperCollins - is donated to SpinalCure Australia. Just another good reason to read Penguin Bloom. If you’d like to donate directly to Sam Bloom’s foundation with SpinalCure Australia, you can do so here. Sam Bloom has also written a follow up to Penguin Bloom, called Sam Bloom Heartache and Birdsong – another remarkable achievement and an uplifting read. While it’s impossible to prevent the unpreventable, we can protect ourselves financially in the event of life-changing circumstances. Be sure to speak to a trusted, experienced professional for advice.”

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Author: John Foley

John is a Partner and Financial Advisor at IMFG. John is an experienced financial services professional with over 25 years of financial markets experience.



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Identity McIntyre Pty Ltd and its specialist financial advisers Angus Dockrill, Scott Douglas, Dan Blatch, Lisette Walsh, Vince Dore, Sangram Rana, John Foley and Matthew Bull are authorised representatives of IMFG Pty Limited, Australian Financial Services Licensee number 527657 Registered Office at: Level 8, 171 Clarence Street, Sydney NSW 2000. These representatives are trading as IMFG.

General Advice Warning - Any advice on this site is general nature only and has not been tailored to your personal objectives, financial situation and needs. Please seek personal advice prior to acting on this information. Any advice on this website has been prepared without taking account of your objectives, financial situation or needs. Because of that, before acting on the advice, you should consider its appropriateness to you, having regard to your objectives, financial situation or needs.

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