Award-winning author, auxiliary nurse and underwater photographer Maria Munn, from Swanage, Dorset, was just three years old when she was run over by a police car on blue lights whilst crossing the road. The accident left her with a head injury and needing reconstructive surgery to her skull at Great Ormond Street Hospital.
Twenty years later Maria was once again run over, this time in an incident involving a lorry whilst she was riding her bike in Rhodes, Greece.
We speak to Maria about her accidents, her recovery and how her time in hospital led to a new-found passion for the ocean.
Maria had struggled with balance problems ever since her childhood brain injury, but she was always determined to ride a bike. Working as an Overseas Holiday Representative in Greece she began practicing by riding up and down the quiet lanes.
“I thought I had finally mastered the art,” recalled Maria.
However, the first time riding on the main road didn’t go to plan - Maria was hit by a lorry on her first day and critically injured.
The near-fatal accident resulted in 15 fractures and Maria faced a long and painful journey to recovery.
Following the accident in Greece, Maria was air-lifted back to London.
She said: “Funnily enough, the first thing the hospital staff there said was 'In 20 years time you will laugh at this'. My reply was 'You need to read my notes, 20 years ago I was here for the same thing.'”
Maria spent a total of six months in hospital and underwent over 30 operations in total. It took three and a half years for her to walk properly again, which also included losing her voice and the ability to use her left arm, as well as being bolted together with metalwork running from her back through to her left leg and ankle.
It was during her time in St James’ Hospital in Leeds that Maria began to discover an interest in the ocean.
“My veins had all fried up and the only place they could put the cannulas were through my feet”, said Maria.
“In the end, the antibiotics they were giving me weren’t working and the only way to save me was to pack my back with a substance made out of seaweed.
“Whilst all of this was happening, there was a TV program on weekly called 'The Aquanauts' who were following whale sharks in the ocean and satellite-tagging them for research purposes.
“I thought it would be really great to learn more about the ocean, as I had never had an opportunity to learn about it before.
"It took my mind off what was happening and I was really keen to swim with these fish if I could survive and walk again.”
To celebrate getting the all-clear after three and a half years of consultations and operations, Maria decided to buy a camera and begin her photography journey.
Maria began taking lessons to become a qualified open-water diver. However, she faced additional challenges due to the effects of her brain injury.
"I mainly struggled with worrying about anything and everything, learning and remembering the theory needed to pass the diving exams," she said.
"Loud noise and busy environments and even simple things can frighten me. People keep commenting on my limp, but it's my head injuries that cause me the most difficulty. Keeping busy and helping people helps me to cope with this.
“Fortunately, I’ve had some brilliant scuba instructors with The Scuba Trust and Dive Ability who have been so patient in helping me.”
Dive Ability is an organisation that aims to teach scuba diving to people with disabilities.
“Scuba diving can be enjoyed by virtually anyone, regardless of physical ability. In fact, if you have a disability, scuba diving can offer you a unique sense of freedom by transporting you into a world of weightlessness and unlimited intrigue.” (Dive Ability)
If you would like to try scuba diving following a brain injury Maria recommends getting in touch with a specialist organisation, such as Dive Ability.
“They will help you to overcome any limitation with boundless patience and kindness.”
Maria hopes to capture the beauty of the ocean in her photographs. Speaking about her photography she said:
I love everything underwater. I'm well known when I'm under the water for just staying in one spot, observing the fish just going about their daily lives and waving to them. I love capturing their expressions as well as the habitat they live in.
“There are just so many beautiful places that I have been lucky enough to experience.
"Alaska was simply breathtaking - it's not every day that you get to have face-to-face encounters with grizzly bears and icebergs. The size of the marine creatures were beyond huge.
“Tonga in the South Pacific is an incredible experience, providing up-close and personal encounters with 30 tonne humpback whales who come to your side to check you out. I was more scared of these guys than of my face-to-face encounters with great white sharks.”
But closer to home Maria loves being underwater in Dorset, where she runs her own studio. Here she educates others about the ocean, the environment and how photography can help a person's wellbeing, improve life-skills and build confidence.
“In my spare time, you will find me underwater clearing the rivers of glass bottles, jars, fishing hooks, nets and I have even found invoices and a pair of sunglasses (which were reunited with their owner!).”
Maria has recently formed a partnership with Wyatt and Jack to turn inflatable lilos and other items she finds discarded on the beach into useable, everyday products.
She is also working on a project travelling in her VW themed 'Ocean Bus' to inspire local children to appreciate how pretty the seas can be.
In a plea to everyone, Maria stresses the need to protect our oceans:
Please help, even in just a little way, by using a reusable bag or taking a reusable coffee cup and water bottle on your travels.
“This alone will save so much plastic and unwanted waste going to landfill. Just one little thing every day, working together can help to make such a great difference.”
If you would like to find out more about Maria's work, including information about her courses and her photography, click here to visit her website.
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