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Tales of Extraordinary Resilience – The London kick off of the Dive In Festival

 

The 4th Dive in Festival’s first event in London ‘Awareness into Action: The Ripple Effect’ was moderated by the BBC’s security correspondent, Frank Gardner and featured Paddington rail crash survivor, Pam Warren alongside Gian Power, the founder of a purposeful speaker organisation, The Lions Club (TLC). Nicolas Aubert, CEO of WTW opened the event calling for action on inclusion in a nod to the festival’s theme this year, #time4inclusion.

Frank Gardner shared his experience of being shot in a terrorist attack which left him paralysed from the waist down. He recounted the advice given to him by a Navy psychologist to focus on all of the activities that he would still be able to participate in rather than mourning all of the things that he had lost. He reflected that although that felt impossible at the time, he had just returned from a scuba diving holiday in the Philippines.

On a more activist note, he used the platform to chastise the airport operators for their ‘third class’ treatment of disabled passengers, calling for better resourcing to improve the passenger experience. ‘Disabled people should be treated in exactly the same way on transport, not as some alien species who get pushed into a corner’. He went on to explain that beyond the obvious constraints of being in a wheelchair, quite often people who have survived accidents are coping with pain we can’t see which is a consequence of their injuries. In his case, he described sitting in meetings with a sensation of being hit repeatedly on the leg with a hammer’ and having to find coping strategies that enable him to keep working.

Although clearly still bearing the scars of the 11 bullets that the attack left in his body, Frank commented that he had been lucky enough not to suffer from PTSD. The next speaker up, Pam Warren has not been so lucky. She played a gripping video that narrated the events of the Paddington rail crash that killed 31 people and left a further 500 injured. She was horribly burned in the crash and underwent many skin grafts wearing a plastic pressure mask which gained her the moniker ‘the woman in the mask’.

Pam shared details of her life prior to the crash, working in insurance and pensions, before the comfortable life as she knew it was obliterated leaving her on a long and painful road to recovery. Throughout her presentation, Pam sipped water, pointing out that her vocal chords, burned in the crash are still scarred. Amazingly, given the extent of her injuries, she appears completely unharmed on the outside. She spoke about the mental trauma, depression and even a suicide attempt before seeking professional help to manage the repercussions of her terrible ordeal. Her story was all the more poignant for her warm, honest and often funny delivery. She spoke of liking the post-crash Pam more than the woman she was before, and of how at the moment when she thought she was going to die, she was struck with the thought that the life she had lived ‘was not worth it’. Today she is a portfolio campaigner, continuing her work for rail safety, working with TLC and the Scar Free Foundation as well as a not for profit that works with young people and music.

The event wrapped with Gian Power’s powerful personal story of leading an investigation in two jurisdictions to try to make sense of and solve his father’s murder and his subsequent experiences of managing the profound changes when he was back in the workplace. Frank Gardner’s final summary was of the ‘extraordinary resilience of the human body and mind’ a thought that the audience left with as a powerful start to the Dive In festival.