Monday, December 25, 2006

SURVIVOR: Dorothy Wilkinson

DOROTHY WILKINSON and her partner Tom were visiting Tom’s 58 year old parents who had moved to Thailand. They decided to visit the island of Khao Lak. Dorothy’s partner and his parents were washed away. Dorothy snapped her coccyx, crushed three vertebrae, almost severed her left arm at the elbow where there was a hole the size of a tennis ball, and her head was so badly gashed that her skull was exposed. She thought she was going to die. But with the help of others – she survived. Read various accounts of her story below.

2 years on, grieving tsunami survivors return to Thailand to remember the dead
The Associated Press
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
KHAO LAK, Thailand

Two years after a tsunami killed her fiance and his parents, British national Dorothy Wilkinson still has a hard time going near the sea and cries when talking of that fateful day.

But like scores of other survivors, Wilkinson, from Surrey, England, has come back to the same beaches where the Dec. 26, 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami struck to pay respects to the thousands who died and take another tentative step to rebuilding her own life.

"This is a time to remember those people whom we lost," said Wilkinson, who attended a morning memorial service for tsunami victims in Khao Lak and planned to lay flowers on the beach where her fiance died. "I'm still sad. I don't want to spend Christmas at home. It is too lonely."

About 300 foreign and Thai tsunami survivors joined a ceremony to pay tribute to the victims, observing a minute of silence while Thai police laid flowers and incense on a boat that was washed ashore by the massive waves.

Sharon Howard, a British tourist who lost her fiancee and two children in the disaster and attended the ceremony, said being there made her "very sad, very sad."

"I miss them. They were my life," she said, as tears poured down her cheeks. "I wish I could turn back time and they could all come back."

Similar ceremonies were held on at least two other Thai beaches hard hit by the disaster, including Phuket's Patong beach, where 99 monks chanted for the victims, and dozens of relatives of the dead laid flowers in the sand.

A sign on Patong beach simply read: "Remembering our friends, Dec. 26, 2004."
Thai officials also used the ceremony to reassure survivors they were putting measures in place — including a tsunami warning system — to prevent future disasters.

"The Thai government will try to do everything it can to prevent the loss of lives and any serious damage as we experienced two years ago," Sakthip Krairerk, a senior official in the tourism and sports ministry, told the crowd.

Authorities also planned to open a cemetery for hundreds of unidentified tsunami victims later in the day.

The tsunami killed 8,212 people in Thailand, including foreigners vacationing at five-star resorts and local residents who mostly lived in fishing communities that line the Andaman coast.
Some 230,000 people in a dozen countries around the Indian Ocean rim were killed or missing and presumed dead in the disaster.

Wilkinson said she is still struggling to cope with the loss or her relatives and understand why she was the only one to survive. On her trip to Thailand this year, she said she wants to give back something to the country and will spend time teaching English to Thai children.
"It is, perhaps, my way of making myself feel like a better person," she said.

For many Thai survivors, the recovery process has been just as difficult. Along with grieving for loved ones, many have had to rebuild homes washed away in the waves as well as shops and other businesses lost in the disaster.

"If I could die in their place, I would do it," said Beehong Nawalong, a 76-year-old food vendor who brought photographs to the Khao Lak ceremony of her daughter and four grandchildren who died in the tsunami. She also lost her home in the disaster.

"I still can't come to terms with it. I cry almost every night," she said, adding that the body of one granddaughter remains missing.

Evening Standard (London), Jan 10, 2005 by LECH MINTOWT-CZYZ

Many Britions who went to the region to search for missing friends and relatives have reported Foreign Office staff were " unhelpful", "lacking knowledge" and "incompetent".
So far 50 Britons have been confirmed dead and a further 391 are thought highly likely to have been killed. As many as 2,000 others are still unaccounted for.

At least 150,000 people are now known to have died in the disaster.

With the official British death toll expected to rise today one London man told how his sister, brother-inlaw and nephew were all swept to their deaths.

Michael Pitt's sister and her husband, Colin and Carole Fairbairn, both 58 and expatriates who had settled in Thailand, were being visited by their son Tom, 25 and his partner Dorothy Wilkinson.

The group had decided to pay a visit to the idyllic beach at Khao Lak when they were caught in the tragedy. Miss Wilkinson, 34, managed to climb up a tree and survived with cuts and bruises but saw the rest of her party engulfed by the water.

In a heartbreaking phone call from her hospital bed she told Mr Pitt how the horror unfolded.
He said: "Dorothy said her last memories are of the sea going out, Tom going down to the water's edge, and of running up the beach with Colin, and with Carole and Tom running behind. She got up a tree but they did not."

Mr Pitt, 50, from Croydon, flew out to Khao Lak to search for his relatives but without success.
He added: "That was the first time I could weep. The chaos, the bodies that were buried there, you could smell them. They couldn't, all three of them, be lying unconscious in a Thai hospital. I understood that."

Mr Pitt told how he visited the room they had stayed in at the Orchid Beach resort.
"They had been staying at the main block and it was still standing, although everything around it was scattered and smashed," he said.

"Their room was wrecked. Water and sand had flowed through it.

There were no documents or valuables. I found a few pathetic personal belongings - Carole's glasses case, a novel she was reading by Rose Tremain, Colin's scuba mask and Tom's Christmas card to his parents thanking them for this wonderful holiday.

"I went down to the beach in order to spend some time alone, just sitting there. To people who want to come out and do this, even if you are experienced, I have to say it is very, very distressing. There is the smell of death, which once you smell it you can never forget."
Colin and Carole, from Walton-On-Thames, Surrey, had been enjoying their expat life in Bangkok, where Carole, a former headmistress, taught at Shrewsbury International School, a branch of the British public school.

For Tom's sake, I will finish the Marathon

Evening Standard (London), Apr 11, 2006 by DAVID COHEN

THE THAI doctor stood over a critically injured Dorothy Wilkinson and shouted at her above the din of the overcrowded Khao Lak hospital ward.

Having just survived the Boxing Day tsunami, she was delirious, barely conscious and temporarily deaf. All around, laid wall to wall on the floor, hundreds of people were screaming in agony. It was a scene of utter mayhem.

Then, like a whip cracking, she heard the doctor's dreaded words: "English girl! You've broken your back!"

At that moment, in excruciating pain and desperately scanning the ward for her missing partner, Tom Fairbairn, Dorothy could barely deal with news that she would never walk again.

Yet instantly she was stubbornly refusing the prognosis. "It's not broken!

I can feel my feet," she protested. But nobody heard her. Instead, with her temperature soaring, Dorothy was moved to a dark corner where she was expected to die from her horrific injuries. She had snapped her coccyx, crushed three vertebrae, almost severed her left arm at the elbow where there was a hole the size of a tennis ball, and her head was so badly gashed that her skull was exposed.

Fast-forward 16 months and Dorothy, 38, having tortuously found her way back to health after five lifesaving operations, is not only walking but in 12 days' time will line up for the 2006 Flora London Marathon. Ironically, she had been in training for last year's London Marathon on the very morning the tsunami struck, running for an hour along the beach at dawn, and although she had to miss last year's event she is in no doubt that her peak fitness helped save her life.
"When you are running a marathon, you learn to block out the pain and focus on what you have to do to cross the line. I instinctively got into that mode, lying in the hospital with no pain relief and desperate for morphine."

This will be her fifth London Marathon but none will be more poignant. For in the journey from her tsunami deathbed to the massed ranks of the Greenwich Park starting-grid lies a story of extraordinary courage, miraculous intervention, and sheer bloody- minded determination.
Her red running vest, printed with the words "in memory of Tom, Colin and Carole", hints at the tragedy she has suffered. For Tom, 25, a mechanical engineer and the man she expected to share her life with, and his parents, Colin and Carole, whom she also adored, were all killed when the 40ft tsunami smashed into the beach on which they were sunbathing. Of the four, only Dorothy, who worked as a gym instructor at her local Surrey fitness centre, survived.

"I returned from Thailand a broken, heartbroken woman, my future washed away in that wave, along with my lovely Tom," Dorothy says at her semi-detached house in Surrey. She tries to hold back her tears as she describes what she has been through, tenderly cradling her heavily scarred forearm, which feels "as hypersensitive as an exposed tooth nerve", and which she attempts to protect with a fitted-Lycra sleeve support.

"I started running after the funerals of Tom and his parents in April last year.

At first I could only run around the block. For months, I struggled to find the will to live, let alone run, yet at the same time it felt like an emotional release to slip on my running shoes.
Slowly, I have built up my strength. I am determined to find the strength to run for Tom and his parents.

Dorothy has another compelling reason to push through the pain barrier. She wants to give back, she says, by raising funds for two charities: the Red Cross, who have supported her throughout her fragile recovery; and the Gentlemans Night Out (GNO) charity which raises funds for good causes such as the terminally ill, and whose intervention almost certainly saved her life.

"It was the fourth day after the tsunami," recalls Dorothy, "and I was hovering between life and death, when suddenly I looked up and saw a beautiful blonde-haired, English-speaking lady who I thought must be an angel. Her name was Kathy Kaplan and she held my hand and in a calm voice told me: 'Don't worry, we are here to help you.' It was such a relief to hear English that for a moment I thought I must be in heaven.

But then I saw the Thai surgeons who moments earlier had been pointing to the pus-filled hole in my arm, and I started shouting hysterically: 'They're going to cut off my arm!' "Kathy immediately found a translator who assured me that although the arm was highly infected, they were not going to amputate it. Next thing, her husband, Arnie, the president of the GNO charity, was by my side and I could hear him instructing the doctors: 'You've got to get her on the next military plane to Bangkok. If she stays here, she will die.'"

Kathy and Arnie, who were on holiday in Thailand, had gone to the hospital with a friend to give blood. "Suddenly, because I had people advocating for me, I became a priority, and within hours I was being wheeled into Bangkok's BNH Hospital," says Dorothy. "They gave me the drugs and operations that saved my life."


At 6:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brave Lady, I wish you all the strength you need to recover mentally and physically from the nightmare and find peace and fulfilment.
You were blessed to survive. I was even more blessed - a crisis in my life just before that Christmas made me stop my daughters going to Phuket, they would have been in a beach hut but because of my intervention they missed the tsunami.
Life is a lottery, we have to make the best and most of our chances.


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