Sam and Cameron Bloom were on an adventure in Thailand with their three boys in 2013 when tragedy struck. The family was on a rooftop terrace and Sam leaned against the safety rail – unaware its supports had rotted away.
She crashed to the concrete two storeys below, shattering two vertebrae in her spine and losing the use of her legs. Sam slipped into a dark depression. But the family's salvation came in the form of a scruffy little bird named Penguin.
"It was immediate and forever life changing,” Cameron says of the accident that left Sam, twisted and bleeding on a concrete pavement four years ago and ultimately changed their family and lives.
“To this day, I remember looking back at one of our boys, who said, ‘Is Mum going to die?’ and seeing terror all over his face,” says Cameron, 45, a professional photographer.
He also recalls the tense wait in a far-flung Thai hospital, the tears and sleepless nights that followed. Thankfully, Sam stabilised and improved. But she’d never walk again.
When she returned to the family’s Sydney home, Sam, now 45, fell apart. Before the accident she had led an active, vibrant life and the reality of what she had lost weighed heavily on her. Cameron, who is not religious, found himself praying.
It was during this time that son Noah found a baby magpie who had barely survived her own brush with death. A gust of wind had blown the chick from her nest. The boys – Rueben, now 15, Noah, 13, and Oliver, 11 – promptly named the bird Penguin because of her black and white plumage.
Penguin healed slowly.
At the same time, Sam was struggling with her own recovery. Being unable to help her boys whenever they got sick was particularly hard on her. But Penguin had to be fed every two hours.
“Penguin needed her,” Cameron says. “Sam’s demeanour and outlook on everything suddenly changed for the better because she could help Penguin.”
Sam nursed Penguin, who became an uplifting, mischievous presence – and a member of the family.
“They formed a unique bond and it just lifted Sam’s spirits,” Cameron says. “It made her realise she could still get on and be successful and do some of the things she loves. It just made her realise life was worth living.”
The Bloom's journey has been turned into a book, Penguin Bloom: The Odd Little Bird Who Saved a Family by Cameron Bloom and Bradley Trevor Greive (ABC Books). Ten per cent of royalties are donated to SpinalCure Australia which funds spinal cord injury research.
All photography by Cameron Bloom