As I was reading this book, I found myself holding my breath, willing things to go right even though I knew the outcome. At one minute cheering on the inside, touched by the honesty and humanity of all the medical staff involved and then almost in tears, and this is all by page 42!
I’m sitting by a beach reading ‘Caught Inside’ the story of Chris Blowes, a young South Australian who on Anzac Day 2015 was surfing in the wrong spot at the wrong time and was attacked by a great white shark – not once, but twice.
The miraculous circumstances that led to him being saved by mates, carried up a cliff in a remote area of Eyre Peninsula in South Australia, dedicated hard work by health professionals and then his subsequent recovery is quite incredible.
The book is written by Chris Blowes and Dr Michelle Cresp, the doctor who first treated him when he was finally brought in to Port Lincoln Hospital.
A number of factors fell in Chris’s favour which enabled him to survive what would normally be an unsurvivable injury. Any variation in those circumstances could have seen a different outcome. I found it amazing to read Dr Cresp’s breakdown of every reason why she believes he survived especially, when not all of them were standard or technically right, but together they were perfect for this situation.
It was refreshing to read about the fear that even the professionals had when dealing with the initial trauma and life saving procedures they had to perform. The adrenaline that fear causes is no doubt another factor in helping people perform in times of crisis.
Then comes a roller coaster of emotions from the hard part of reading how each loved one was given the news, and you can’t help but feel sick just imagining receiving a phone call with news like this.
Next there is elation when he is woken from his medically induced coma and manages to communicate with his family. Dr Cresp has a beautiful way with words when she describes Chris’ rescue as a chain of baton passing, a golden baton that with each handover was treated with the utmost caution and care.
The book goes on to detail in weekly updates how his recovery period progressed in hospital until his discharge a mere 5 weeks later. For Chris and other it was then that reality really hit home and a new way of living had to be dealt with. In all this time, his girlfriend Chloe was by his side and her presence comes across as an absolute godsend in helping him stay strong physically and mentally.
Three months after the attack, he was fitted with a prosthetic leg and in 2017 after being fitted for a ‘surf’ leg and unbelievably, within two years of his attack, he was paddling back out into the surf on the south coast of SA, at Middleton.
Another part of Chris’ recovery has been connecting with ‘Bite Club’, a support group for shark attack survivors and their families. The group was formed by Dave Pearson a survivor of a bull shark attack that occurred in 2011 on the northern NSW coast at Crowdy Head. It makes sense that only those who have been through such a traumatic event can truly understand the physical, emotional and psychological effects.
Unbelievably the support is also needed to cope with negative comments and attention by media and social media trolls that can lead to depression and PTSD symptoms. In their own words, the media attention can be more traumatic than the actual shark attack.
This peer support group is doing an amazing job in a ‘non expert way’, of helping victims, their families and friends, first responders and even families of those who didn’t survive attacks. Bite Club has 360 members in Australia and around the world. In 2015 there were 98 shark attacks worldwide with 6 fatalities. 18 of those attacks happened in Australia, 10 victims sustained injuries including Chris, and there was 1 fatality.
Dr Cresp then goes on to look at the ripple effect that Chris’ attack has had on his family, friends and the first responders, in these years afterwards. Feelings of guilt, deepened friendships, episodes of depression, regret and almost any other deep human emotion you can imagine have been experienced.
The book also includes discussion on protection devices and practices for surfers and all ocean users to use, as well as ways to protect sharks, and beach goers. It includes first hand accounts and opinions from people who live on Eyre Peninsula and work in the dangerous waters including fishers, divers and tourism operators.
Today Chris and Chloe are married and have a one year old son. The two mates who rescued him from the water that day were awarded bravery awards, Stars of Courage for their actions on that Anzac Day 2015. The family have all given back to the Port Lincoln community with fund raising events and Chris himself has had speaking engagements at schools and community groups to inspire others and challenge disability stereotypes.
The book ends on an uplifting note that shows the cathartic experience that storytelling can have in recovering from traumatic events and how connections made between people at the worst of times can have life long binding ties. The final words in the book from Chris and Dr Michelle Cresp are incredibly moving and have to be read for yourself.
I can only end with buy the book! It’s a remarkable story of incredible human spirit and humanity working together to achieve a fantastic outcome. This is a story of resilience and sheer guts that can be an inspiration to many. One dollar from the sale of every book goes to Mentally Fit EP, supporting the mental health of the Eyre Peninsula. To buy the book visit Chris Blowes website.