Saturday, March 21, 2009

21 March 2009

Most people who follow this blog will already know that we lost our beloved daughter Ali in Phuket last month. She was watching a superyacht berth at Yacht Haven marina, where we were visiting a friend on his yacht. It’s too hard to write about this so please check Neil and Ley Langford’s web site where Neil has written a very clear account of the accident. I am also going to copy in parts of letters that I’ve written in the last few weeks to let you know what has been happening if you haven’t already heard.

After a swift and expert first aid response from surrounding boats, as well as from three German doctors who arrived on the scene and worked on her all the way in the ambulance to Thalang clinic, Ali was taken to the Bangkok Hospital in Phuket, where she received the very best possible care and treatment, but there was little that could be done. We have nothing but the highest praise for the doctors and nurses who cared for her. Dr Len Notaras, CEO of Royal Darwin Hospital, was liaising with Ali’s neurosurgeon Dr Lersak Leenanithikul in case it was possible to bring Ali home, and he assured us that we were in the best hands, and that everything that could be done was being done.

Family arrived quickly – Jo’s sons Callum and Shaun, her sister Leonie, Lex’s daughter Sophie and son Tom, and Lex’s brother Ian and his son Peter were all there within a few days. We rotated in shifts during the nights so that there was always someone with Ali, talking or singing to her. During the day we were all in her room most of the time. But tests carried out over several days only confirmed the initial diagnosis of no brain activity or brain stem function. Ali received the best possible care, but she had lost too much blood, and the trauma was just too great.

Ali officially left us on the 23rd February, but I think she had gone well before that. In a way I hope so because I hated to think of her lying in that bed for 5 days the way she was. The thing we draw some comfort from is that at the moment she was knocked unconscious, she was excited and happy and planning to get an invite on board a big flash yacht, and chatting happily away to the ship’s agent, Adam Frost, standing next to her. She didn't experience fear or pain or anything like that. It just all happened too fast.

We were offered a Buddhist cremation ceremony in Phuket. It was a very soothing and calming experience, spread over three days at Wat Rattiwanaram Temple in Ao Chalong. Ian’s wife Ellen and son David, and Tom’s partner Jessica arrived a few days before the funeral. Dennis Hart flew in from Hong Kong, while Caroline Barker (Lady Guinevere) and Lisa Sampson (Claire de Lune) caught the ferry and bus from Langkawi to join us. All our family were involved in the ceremony, and on the third day we scattered most of Ali's ashes into the Andaman Sea on the outgoing tide. The rest we've brought home to Darwin, to take up her favourite barramundi creek.

We donated Ali’s organs because we knew without a doubt that she would have wanted us to do that. The Red Cross board, who also attended the funeral, told us a young girl in Bangkok about the same age as Ali received Ali's heart. She would have died without it. Five other people also got another chance at life because of Ali, so we feel as if her death wasn't a total waste.

There was a memorial gathering in the Darwin Supreme Court foyer on March 5, and over 400 people came to it. We always knew Ali was special, but we had no idea so many other people knew it too. The response here and the outpouring of grief and support have been overwhelming. She touched a lot of people and caused a lot of delight in her 16 and a half years.

Now we just have to work out how we live without her. I know that time is the biggest healer, but it seems like such a hard road to travel. Still, other people have lost their children in much worse circumstances, and we have to remember how happy she was that day. We're lucky that we have such a great family, here in Australia and in Holland, and so many good friends, who are helping us to get through this terrible time.

On behalf of all our family, Lex and I want to thank some people for their tremendous support during all of this:

John Beale of Cloudy Bay, who we’d first met on the Ambon Rally and sailed with several times since then, was with us at Ali’s side from minutes after the accident, and helped carry her up to the ambulance. He then followed us to the hospital and spent the next 36 hours there, and many hours after that. John is keeping an eye on Malaika for us while he’s in Yacht Haven.

Jerry Petite, the Canadian who took Ali for her first scuba dive a few weeks earlier, met us at the hospital that night, and also spent the next 36 hours there. He and John sat with Ali the following afternoon while we tried to get some sleep, and they both continued to help us by collecting family from flights and in heaps of other ways.

Adam Frost, of SEAL Corporation, the agency looking after superyachts in Phuket, was standing beside Ali on the jetty talking with her when she was struck. Adam managed everything from that moment onwards, and made sure we had everything we needed and liaised with the owners and crew of the MV Jemasa. He looked after all of us with incredible thoughtfulness and consideration, as did his assistant Jim, a lovely Thai woman who arranged the funeral details with the Buddhist temple and so much more.

Dr Len Notaras, CEO of Royal Darwin Hospital, liaised with the surgeons in Phuket, and clarified the details of the treatment and prognosis for us where language difficulties confused us. He was available for us to speak to whenever we needed extra advice and gave us great reassurance.

Senator Trish Crossin, Member for the NT, responded to our pleas for help when three family members didn’t have current passports. Passports were issued in less than a day enabling them to reach us as quickly as they could.

Larry Cunningham, Australian Honorary Consul, visited us several times at the hospital and the hotel, and attended the funeral. He gave us invaluable advice and support. The Australian Embassy in Bangkok stayed in touch with us by phone, and both offered help and support. It’s good to know that the systems in place to help Australians overseas actually work when you do find yourself in trouble far from home.

Finally, as soon as they had word of the accident, Julia Christensen, Elizabeth Desailly and Terri Robson(Hart) swung into action and set up an email tree keeping hundreds of people informed of what was happening in Thailand. They thought of all the things that would need to be done, and started calling people and organizing things for us. We could not have coped as well as we did, without the support they gave us. Mike and Jill Baxter contacted the Embassy, putting advance preparations in place for bringing Ali home. Jane Fishlock in Katherine organized the flights to and from Thailand and brought us all home together.

Thank you all so much for the constant flow of love and support we’ve had ever since the accident. We’ve been inundated with offers of places to stay, cars to drive - both in Darwin and in Phuket – and everything else. We are so lucky to have such great friends and such a wonderful family to help us through this sad time.

For now, we are staying in Darwin, spending time with the grandbabies, our children and friends. It’s too soon to make any real plans, but we think we will probably return to Thailand towards the end of the year and continue the voyage. Ali told us many times that she really wanted to sail around the world, and we think that’s what we’ll do.

Lex will return to Malaika in a few months and start some of the maintenance and upgrades we’d been planning to do, so we’ll update this blog with the progress from time to time.

Jo and Lex

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