Sam Bloom had a sense of adventure instilled in her from a young age. Her family went on regular overland trips across the country, exploring new places and having unique experiences.
“We were always living in the moment,” she says, “and thanks to my dad’s love of the outback and animals, when we were growing up there was a never-ending stream of strays and injured wildlife to look after.”
The ocean was a big part of Bloom’s early life, and she met her future husband, Cam, when he would come into the family cake shop and buy pies after a surf. Over the next five years, Cam and Sam traversed the globe, discovering a deep love for the Middle East. After a decade together, they married. Their family was complete with three boys – Reuben, Noah and Oliver – in four years.
In 2013, the kids were old enough for international travel so the Blooms went to Thailand. They went to Phuket, but the crowds and noise wasn’t for them, so they headed to a less-crowded location.
“We found a beautiful seaside resort lined with palm trees and with next to no-one around,” Sam recalls. “When I woke up the next morning and walked across the sand to swim in the sparkling waves with my young family, I had no idea that this would be my last perfect moment.”
How Sam’s life changed in a moment
After the morning swim, the family climbed a spiral staircase to an observation deck. As Cam took photos, Sam and the boys took in the view and planned the day ahead. She leant on a safety rail, and in a moment everything changed. The rail gave way and she plunged six metres to the concrete below where she lay broken and in a pool of blood.
Rueben asked if she was going to die, but then bravely ran to call an ambulance. Sam was strapped to a spinal board and driven three hours to a private hospital. A few days later she was operated on. “I could barely move, my whole body was battered, and I had no idea my neck was broken at T6 and T7, just in line with my chest,” she says.
Sam’s lungs were ruptured – the left one completely collapsed due to her chest cavity filling with blood – her skull was fractured, and she had bleeding on the brain. “As I lay there, I remember apologising to Cam and the boys for wrecking our holiday. Seeing my family suffer all because of me made me feel sick with guilt.”
Three weeks later, Sam was flown home to Australia and transferred to the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney. It was there she learnt the awful truth: she would never walk again. “I spent the first month completely overwhelmed and cried my eyes out every day,” she says.
But the worst was yet to come. It wasn’t the day she fell, or the day she learnt she would never walk again, but the day she arrived home from hospital. Sam had always loved her home, but the house wasn’t as she remembered it. “As I came through the front door, I realised that nothing would ever be the same again.”
For the first year, Sam shut herself off from the world. She didn’t want to see old friends, because they reminded her of the active, outdoorsy life she had loved. Seeing people going to the beach or off for a run just rubbed salt into her very raw and open wounds.
“No one understood what was going through my mind,” she says. “Not that I wasn’t grateful for people trying to help, but my life just wasn’t the same anymore and I felt so ripped off. All I wanted was to get back on my surfboard or mountain bike and be free.”
Then came Penguin the magpie
Sam’s emotional breakthrough came after Noah found a baby magpie that fell from a tree. She says it was a miracle the bird was still alive, having fallen 20 metres, but they picked the bird up, found an old laundry basket and made a home for it.
“We named her Penguin because she had massive feet, a short black beak and a fluffy chest just like a baby Penguin,” says Sam. “The first few days were touch and go, but she quickly got stronger and before long she was perching on a stick over her basket.”
In that instant, Sam stopped thinking about herself. “After Penguin joined our family, the focus shifted from me to her,” she says. “We were her family.”
Penguin encouraged Sam to start training and within two weeks of coming home from rehab she was kayaking. She entered several races and was selected for the Australian ParaCanoe Team in March 2015. “I just wanted to get back out on the water, I wanted to feel like my old self again.”
In 2018, Sam got back on a surfboard, competing for the Australian Adaptive Surf Team. She then travelled to the world championships in the US, and won. But that wasn’t even the most amazing thing about her story. In 2020, Sam’s story was made into a Hollywood film, Penguin Bloom, starring Naomi Watts.
“When I look back at my past from despair to delight, I’m shocked that so much can change for the better in such a relatively short time,” she says. “Whether it's recovering from a disaster or striving for personal and professional growth, embracing change is always difficult.”
One thing that helped, says Cam, was the fact they had insurance. “We had life insurance and TPD, and my work was compromised, so they helped with everything, including adapting the house for Sam’s needs,” he says.
Says Sam: “You don’t have to suffer a terrible accident like I did to feel lost, unlovable or broken. We all face different challenges every day, and life can be hard. So, when your life seems unbearable, do your best with hope and love, even if it’s from a scrappy little magpie.”
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