Incident date: 11am Monday 4th June – Perranporth beach
Three days into a paddle-boarding course around the coast of Cornwall and Frank Livens’ life transformed in an instant.
The retired firefighter had been holidaying with his wife in the county and that day had been enjoying the waves on Perranporth Beach with a group of fellow learners when he made the fateful decision to head back out for one last wave.
Seeing a set approaching he span the board around whilst on his knees, but found his balance failing and he fell off the board, something which he’d done tens of times already that week, but this time that fall had devastating consequences.
With the paddle in his hands he couldn’t cover his head and the board smashed into his skull just behind his ear.
Stunned and losing consciousness, the last thing Frank remembers is seeing an instructor nearby on the beach and thinking that “everything would be OK”.
Frank didn’t realise at the time, but the impact of the board had caused bruising down his spinal cord and paralysis quickly spread through his arms and legs.
Pulled onto the beach by his instructor Frank required CPR to restart his breathing and clear the water from his lungs having been submerged for up to four minutes.
The Cornwall Air Ambulance was scrambled and after landing on the sands of Perranporth Beach, an immobilised Frank was transferred inside for the journey to the Royal Cornwall Hospital at Treliske.
Partially regaining consciousness in the helicopter Frank recalls “I couldn’t see or move but I could hear the engine and the rotors, and I could hear the crew talking to each other; that and the smell, the smell of the fuel and the engines. But I knew I felt safe; I was alive”.
Unbeknownst to him at the time, Frank had suffered life-changing injuries. The effect of near-drowning coupled with the damage to his spinal cord had left him with a complete lack of movement in his arms and legs which lasted for several days.
Thankfully, he began to regain some feeling after a few days, but a long process stretches ahead with no guarantee of a full recovery.
Frank says his overriding feeling now is of gratefulness and he’d like to see more done to help the crews, “I worked in emergency services, so I know how important their work is, I don’t think they get the recognition they deserve. I would love to see them get some government funding.”
“I’ve not been to Cornwall before this, but parts of it are clearly remote and inaccessible, I’d say it’s an essential service.”
“Words can’t express how I feel towards the people who saved my life, from the people who pulled me through the water to those taking me to hospital, and the primary care I received. I wouldn’t have survived had it not been for this chain of professionals.”
Despite the horrific experience, Frank isn’t put off the idea of paddle-boarding again. He says he sees it as a challenge to one day revisit the sea and get back out there on a wave again.
He also hopes to return to meet the crew who helped to save his life, to pass on his personal thanks and gratitude.