Tom is a general, vascular and trauma surgeon and army officer in the Royal Army Medical Corps and has served a secondment on the London Air Ambulance; he is married to Lindsay and father to three sons. He lives in Fulham, West London.
I was deployed to Afghanistan in 2009 with an officer called Will Dixon who lost his leg in an explosion. He was later part of a crew of injured soldiers who formed a team ‘Row2Recovery’ to do the Transatlantic Row challenge in 2012. Their journey was documented in a book by Sam Peters. More people have climbed Everest than rowed the Atlantic and the challenge has always been in the back of my mind, ‘it is an itch I have wanted to scratch’ since 2012. The challenge encompasses all those important factors which makes you a good doctor, a good father, good husband, a good army officer and a bit of an adventurer.
As a father of three children, the prospect of losing one of them is truly heart breaking. Margot’s story and the Team Margot charity are important subjects that we should all consider. Registering as a donor should be something we all do. To be able to help this charity is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I want to help bring more to the fore the impact of blood stem cell donation and organ donation in general on people’s lives. It is a rare privilege to be in a position to save a life.
I am registered as a stem cell donor. It is so quick and easy to do. You don’t have to go anywhere to donate. The swab pack is sent to you, you follow the simple instructions and just simply send your swabs back in the post.
Last year I was lucky to be part of a large London’s Air Ambulance team that took part in the Marathon Des Sables, an ultramarathon in the Moroccan desert. It was the best of times and on occasion, the worst of times. This challenge is similar, but obviously longer in duration. You simply have to keep going, keep walking, keep rowing. You have got to walk the journey to get to the end. You just have to put in the miles and the strokes to get to the finish. But we will get there and when we do, hopefully we will have over a million more registered donors who will go on to help other people, so the legacy will be enduring.
I have to be fit for my job, but I’m doing more than that to get strong and build up resilience. Working on core stability as we are going to be sitting on a boat that rolls about all over place and so working on strengthening my back, arms and legs.
It is also important to prepare mentally and divide the race up to sums and parts over the 3,000 miles. We talk about it being 1.5 million strokes to get 1.5 million donors but it’s important to focus the achievement of every stroke to get you closer to the finish. We have the charity as inspiration and the goal of more donors to think about to help drive us along.
When I did the Marathon Des Sables through the Sahara desert you suffer a few blisters on your feet and tired legs. In this race, we will no doubt suffer other physical aches and pains but also a fair bit of mental torture. It’s important to maintain perspective though and consider that our suffering may be nothing compared with the suffering of the patients I see as a doctor and nothing compared to the suffering of a small girl and the grief of her parents and the difficult time her parents and family have had to go through. So suffering for around 40 days at sea is nothing really is it?
It is easy to say the finish. It will be a hugely emotional event and a huge sense of achievement, and the one part I have thought about most. But it’s obviously vitally important to also think about the large chunk between the start and the finish! I think in our busy lives we are constantly surrounded by other human beings, buildings, traffic and noise. It will be a pleasant change to experience the solace, the quietness, the remoteness and being at one with Mother Nature. Previous teams have commented on the fish, the dolphins and the whales (hopefully no sharks) they have seen.
Going from a busy work and home life to real calm and peace is something almost unique in our world these days. We are constantly surrounded by physical and verbal noise and stimulus, beholden to phones and laptops and work schedules. We will really be just four men and a boat.
In all that solace there will no doubt be a degree of monotony. Two hours on and two off rowing is going to be difficult. You can be mentally strong but it’s essentially row, eat, sleep, repeat. I watched lots of the boats last year and one of the challenges was when the sea is flat and is very monotonous and despite your efforts you aren’t moving and progressing in the right direction. I think how you mentally cope with that will be difficult.
Skills as a doctor always help, I have a calm head under pressure, I’m reliable, confident, a team player, work well in a small team and I’m someone who is going to enjoy it – it can be the best of times and also the worst of times and success hangs on how well you cope when the going gets tough.
I will miss my wife and children, my family and friends. It will remind me of how we take a number of things in life for granted, but we should remember that not everyone has a comfy bed every night, has the guarantee of a warm meal, has the love of friends of family and people to turn to when they are in need.
I will miss Christmas dinner with all the family around the dinner table, when you give thanks for what you have and are very grateful for the people around you. I have been away on Christmas day before with the army and that was difficult and we were busy. It will be a challenge but there will be other Christmas’ to make up for it.
It will be the first time I’ve not spent Christmas with my family. But the sense of wanting to do it overwhelms what I will be missing. We will create some Christmas traditions while out there.
The Rolling Stones song ‘Miss You’, which I listen to lots while I am away from my family.
Things that protect you from the elements. Letters from home because it gives you that perspective and allows you to think about why you are doing things. Also pictures of family will be the things that help drive me along. I’d like to learn to fish and hopefully we’ll be able to make sushi.
I am hoping my family will be there to meet me, depending on school exams etc. I watched lots of the boats finish in last year’s race and saw the teams cross the line and embrace their family and cry the tears of joy. Family really hits the nail on the head as to the reason we are trying to drive awareness of stem cell registration and doing this challenge. I have never been to Antigua before so this will be quite a unique way to get there.Back to the Crew
YOUR STEM CELLS CAN SAVE A LIFE.