One minute you’re an active, sports loving teenager and the next a freak accident throws yours and your family’s and your friend’s lives into turmoil…
Recently we got chance to speak to Bridget Lazarides after she approached NCW for a chat about the gear we sell . We got talking and having heard the details of Tom’s accident it struck a chord (see our story for context on this). So much so that we wanted to do something to help raise awareness.
We appreciate – such are the times we live in – that a good many have difficult situations to deal with as far as health and illness go. Tom’s story is just one situation but worth a little of your time.
To get accurate details we asked Tom’s mum, Bridget, a few questions about his accident and how the situation is now.
Give us a little background about Tom and his life prior to his accident.
Tom (Laz) is just an exceptional and really lovely young man. We knew how much we loved him but just had no idea how loved he is. Funny, kind, thoughtful, very sporty. He is studying Business Studies at Durham University, plays county cricket, has a very low golf handicap and is a fantastic sports person all round – his love of sport has really kept him going. He learnt to surf at Mawgan Porth (Cornwall) and Sligo (Ireland) when he was 3. The determination to succeed and keep up with his siblings (he has two older brothers, Theo and George who are 25 and a sister Kate, who is 15) has been an incredibly important motivator.
Tell us how Tom’s accident happened.
Tom was with three friends at a pool when he dived in, forgetting which was the shallow end. His friends realised what had happened instantly, when he did not come up. They turned him and managed to get him to the side of the pool and call an ambulance. I was walking by the sea at Birling Gap on the South Downs when I got a phone call from one of Tom’s friends Felix. Normally this would be to tell me that he had lost his phone or run out of battery but the second I saw Felix’s name I knew there had been an accident. I arrived at the pool as the air ambulance arrived. Just in time to hold his hand and tell him I loved him.
What was the initial diagnosis post-accident?
Tom had fractured his neck in two places, known as C5 and C6. He had also compressed and stretched his spinal cord. At this point he had good arm movement and this began to increase daily, however, he then became very ill.
As Tom recovered another issue arose. Can you explain a little about that?
It was decided that Tom should have a tracheostomy so that he could be ventilated through his neck. Either as a result of a reaction to an anaesthetic or sepsis Tom’s temperature reached 43 degrees. He was instantly given kidney dialysis as he had developed a condition called rhabdomyolysis (rhabdo). The heat destroyed all of his muscle and if dialysis had not been given instantly he would not have survived. However, this meant that he was unable to open his eyes, breathe or even swallow. The rhabdo was far more shocking than the accident. We tend to divide the time as the injury and illness, so we just felt incredibly lucky that he survived. We were told on many occasions that Tom must have really wanted to live, as he could have decided to bail out at any time. Apparently very few people survive this.
How did the following weeks pan out for you?
We then had to begin the fight to get Tom to a spinal unit for (what we believed) would be rehab. Tom was accepted on the waiting list for Stoke Mandeville, which has a reputation as being an outstanding spinal unit. Tom was in intensive care at Kings College Hospital for 4 1/2 months. We were able to move to London to be close to him when he was at Kings and they were fantastic about letting us see him every day and support him seeing his friends – initially outside and as it got colder in the atrium. COVID made things very difficult but this was a lifeline. With the support of our MP, Helen Hayes, who was excellent we were able to get Tom a bed at Stoke Mandeville. However, whether due to COVID or austerity, this experience was both shocking and terrifying. Above all there was no rehab. We were informed after 6 days as soon as Tom was well enough for a (geriatric) care home, he would be discharged to one in a power wheel chair. When I explained that to send a 20 year old to a care home was barbaric I was informed that this was the outcome (currently) for all people with high level injuries who are patients at Stoke Mandeville. We knew we had to get him out and to a rehab centre. Our plans were a bit thwarted by him catching COVID but we were able to get him to a rehab centre in Sheffield – this was the only place we could get him to due to the pandemic.
At what point did you start seeing some light at the end of the tunnel?
At what stage did the clouds become to lift? I’ve been thinking a lot about this as although sometimes they cloud back over but one of the real break throughs for me was talking to Mark Graham at North Coast Wetsuits, and a few others who’ve been in similar situations – either themselves or with kids. I think the biggest (hardest) thing is to keep going and working out how to just keep putting one foot in front of the other and then yesterday I spoke to a woman who was talking about when Tom starts skiing/sky diving / scuba diving again and I suddenly could believe we are going to get there. Tom’s friends have kept him- and us going. I was advised by one of Tom’s lecturers (Brett Smith) that the single thing that would make the difference to Tom’s outcome and self belief was his friends. We ended up having to break his friends in to see him. They have been utterly wonderful.
What’s the situation now?
Tom’s in a rehab centre called Steps. Huge difference is that at Stoke Mandeville he was receiving 3 hours of physio a week, in Sheffield he receives 25 hours. Very, very slowly he is beginning to regain movement in his arms and fingers. It is incredibly slow but Tom’s rehab is definitely moving in the right direction.
And the plan moving forwards?
It looks like Tom will be able to go to the Matt Hampson Foundation “Get Busy Living Centre” when he leaves Sheffield. Matt had a serious spinal injury at 20, like Tom, and it supports young sports people with serious injuries. Above all we just want Tom home. We are having the house reorganised so that it is where Tom wants to be. Bizarrely- again due to COVID- a new set of rules have been decided so we have to prove that home is better than a care home! The big fight is to raise enough money (the rehab centre costs £7,500 a week and because we moved Tom as fast as we could from Stoke Mandeville we have no financial support) to secure Tom the ability to fulfil his physical and emotional potential. Once home Tom will, hopefully, carry on working with physios at Matt Hampson and at a centre called Neurokinex.
What are Tom’s feelings about everything currently?
He is so relieved to be somewhere that is both kind and effective. He described himself as being happy at Steps, which is a real testament to him.
And yours as his mum?
It’s quite extraordinary how much you can love someone really. I am extraordinarily proud of him and his determination. A combination of his utter focus and the love of his friends will get him though.
How can anyone reading this help?
It is incredibly helpful speaking to people who have been through similar experiences. It is wonderful if people can donate, through Tom’s website: tomlazarides.com or his Instagram page: @toms_fight and if anyone can face a sponsored anything – walk, run, surf, cake sale or other – it gets Tom’s story out to a whole new audience. I had never realised how important this can be.
Any final thoughts, thanks or comments?
Our thanks are to his, and our, incredible friends and everyone who has climbed mountains, swam across the Channel, run marathons and been there. To the staff at Kings College Hospital and Steps Rehab Centre and to the spinal charities: Aspire, Backup and the Matt Hampson Foundation. I would especially like to thank everyone at North Coast Wetsuits. Talking to Mark was a turning point and enabled me to focus on life after hospital and Tom’s wonderful future.
If you’re keen to donate and help the Lazarides family reach the goal of 250,000 for Tom’s ongoing care then hit the following link –
NCW will be donating £5 to Tom’s fund from every sale of NCW 30L roll top dry bags. This is a way to help someone in need as well as acquiring a nifty piece of NCW kit. Product link below.