It goes without saying that Lands’ End is full of amazing people, arguably none more so than Customer Services Advisor, Tom Ray. Tom’s story of a near-fatal battle with sepsis and the devastating physical and emotional repercussions was told in the critically acclaimed film, Starfish, and subsequently propelled him into the media spotlight. Interviews on This Morning, ITN news, Panorama and appearances at celebrity-packed film premieres quickly became the norm.
A fight for life
Tom and wife Nic met at Exeter University where Tom studied English and harboured dreams of becoming an actor. It wasn’t until 14 years later that they married and settled in an idyllic cottage in Hambleton, a beautiful peninsula at Rutland Water with two-year old daughter Grace. In December 1999, Nic, who was running a successful video production company, was due to start maternity leave with baby number 2, when tragedy struck. What they initially thought was a nasty case of food poisoning quite rapidly became something far more serious. Tom had a raging temperature, very cold hands and feet and became distant and drowsy. He was taken to hospital, and less than 24 hours later, Nic was given the devastating news that he had just a 1 in 10 chance of survival. Whilst Tom did pull through, it was at huge physical and mental cost – he eventually lost both arms and legs plus much of the tissue on the lower part of his face had to be removed. Tom woke up from a four-month coma to find he had a new baby son, Freddy; and with no idea how his life had irrevocably changed.
A global success
Their story was made for the big screen by local Producer Bill Clark and by November last year, the film was being shown at cinemas nationwide as well as at film festivals as far away as South Korea, Taiwan and China. Nic and Tom were portrayed in the film by celebrated actors Joanne Froggatt (Downton Abbey) and Tom Riley (Da Vinci’s Demons) with BAFTA award-winner Jason Watkins taking a cameo role. Tragically, Jason lost his young daughter Maude to sepsis and through their joint work for The Sepsis Trust, he and Tom have now become close, personal friends.
I asked Tom about the impact the film has had on his life:
“Undoubtedly, both Nic and I have undergone major changes since the film launched, both personally and professionally. One of the most positive things to come out of the film’s publicity is the huge increase in awareness about sepsis and the need for swift diagnosis. We teamed up with The Sepsis Trust, and very quickly started speaking at NHS conventions about the symptoms of this terrible disease and what more needs to be done to combat it. Sepsis still claims 44,000 lives every year; a truly horrifying figure that doesn’t even take into account the devastating knock-on effects and on-going medical costs for those who survive. Every hour that goes by, the patient has an 8% increased chance of dying. Nic and I are absolutely passionate about saving more lives if we can. If in doubt, I would urge people to ask: could it be sepsis?’”
Has this opened new doors for them?
“I can’t lie, it’s a long time since I’ve been in front of an audience and I absolutely love the buzz of it!” Tom enthuses. “Having started my life in the spotlight, it feels like this was something I was always meant to do.”
Tom and Nic have set up their own public speaking company called Resilience and Co, and through their extensive media contacts have been given the services of a full-time manager. “The response to our public speaking has been incredible so far. We don’t just focus on sepsis, we cover all aspects of how to recover from a disaster, whether that be divorce, debt, bereavement or redundancy, through strengthening your support network. We’re a pretty good double-act: Nic is excellent at recalling facts and figures which is crucial because the illness has reduced my ability to retain information. And of course, my prosthetic limbs make any physical exertion incredibly tiring so it helps to be part of a team.”
He’s not giving up the day job – yet!
Whilst relishing this new lifestyle, Tom still credits Lands’ End with getting him back into employment 13 years ago: “The support I get from the Directors at Lands’ End have made it all possible and I am privileged to count many of my colleagues as friends. Financially, we lost everything in the early days; our house, the money we had saved to see us through the next few years, a thriving business. So to be able t
o earn a wage and provide for my family, which most people take for granted, means more than anything.”
Tom acknowledges that his severe disability has made career progression difficult which is why the opportunities that have arisen from the film are so important. “Lands’ End were really supportive during the making of
Starfish, providing the clothing for the cast and crew, and enabling me to have time off to schedule filming and promotional appearances. Some of my colleagues even made their acting debuts in the dinner party and fun run scenes!”
All you need is love
Tom’s devotion to Nic and his family is what motivates him to keep pushing forward with future plans, despite inevitable set-backs along the way: “In my darkest days, I was so damaged
physically and mentally, I felt I’d lost everything; Nic was my shining light and my reason for going on. I’m not ashamed to say that without her and the support of my family, I probably wouldn’t be here today. That’s why I tell people that our story is not one about tragedy and disaster; it’s a love story. Everything we’ve overcome, we’ve done together, which is why our partnership works so well. Even now, despite the incredibly hard struggle that life has been at times, I don’t look at everything I’ve lost, I look at what I have. And I genuinely feel like I’m the luckiest man alive.”
Starfish is available to buy on DVD now from Amazon. The self-titled book of the film (adapted from the screenplay by Tom himself) is due out in September.
Visit www.starfish.film to find out more about the film
Visit www.resilienceand.co to find out about Tom and Nic Ray’s public speaking services
Visit www.meningitis-trust.org for information on the early warning signs of sepsis & meningitis
Photography / Artwork credits:
Elli Dean photography www.ellideanphotography.co.uk
Clinton Croson Artist, www.clintoncroson.com