Last September, Sarah de Lagarde, global head of communications at Janus Henderson, slipped on the London Underground and fell through the gap between the train and platform.
Tragically, nobody saw what happened. The train pulled out of the station, another arrived, and Sarah lost her arm and leg.
In a LinkedIn post on 26 November, Sarah made her story known. You can find it, in her own words, here.
She agreed to be interviewed by Portfolio Adviser and shared her recovery, return to work and incredible bravery and spirit that has got her to where she is today – working back in the office and in an industry she loves, and hiking at weekends.
The full video interview is above and transcript below.
To find out more about how to support Sarah and her family, click here.
NK: Hello, I’m Natalie Kenway, editor in chief at MA Financial Media. Today we have quite a different but very important interview. I’m joined by Sarah de Lagarde who is global head of communications at Janus Henderson. Last year, she endured a tragic accident that resulted in life changing injuries. I will let you explain that. I’m sure it must be very difficult to relive, but please share what you can with us.
SDL: Well, thank you for having this chat with me, it’s lovely to see you again. I can give you a little bit of detail around the accident. One point that I wanted to make straight off the bat was that it was an accident. It was a very silly accident. Like a split second, 10 seconds, it took for me to fall down the gap in between the train and the platform.
I was in a hurry, you run, you trip and I fell against the closing doors of the tube. And then in between the gap between the train, in between the train and the platform. But I got rescued and I’m here today.
NK: We are so thankful that you are here today with us. Tell us about those first two months of recovery. What was the most important thing for you to consider at that time?
SDL: The first two months were probably the hardest, I can’t sugarcoat any of that. I was in shock because it was such a sudden thing. And yet with these injuries that will be with me for the rest of my life, it was really hard psychologically and physically to come to terms with that.
But the driving force for me to recover was to be with my family, to be with my two girls and my husband and that was the driving force to recover as quickly as possible, I had one aim and that was to be at home for Christmas. That was a promise that I made to my family. And so I was lucky that my injuries healed well.
I was well looked after, all credit to the surgeons and the doctors at the Royal London Hospital, the helicopter emergency medical services were absolutely incredible. That now all contributed to the speedy recovery. I made it home for Christmas, actually I was a month early. On the 2nd of December, I was home.
NK: How did your employer reach out and support you in those first few months? What were they able to do to help you?
SDL: I was very positively surprised by the reaction that my colleagues had. I cried a lot in those first two months, but it was not necessarily because I felt sorry for myself, it was more because the reaction of people and how supportive they were. People got in touch by all sorts of means. I received boxes of cookies from the US. And I received all these cards, well-wishing messages… Everybody reached out and it wasn’t just my team, it was people from the executive committee, our new CEO Ali Dibadj reached out and we had a conversation over Zoom. Our CFO Roger Thompson came to visit me in the hospital several times and my boss did as well.
It was not just something that impacted me. When an accident like that happens, it impacts the people around you so much, more than anyone would think.
It’s not just immediate family, but it’s everyone around and I just realised at that point how wide our networks are.
NK: Absolutely and when we talked before about the LinkedIn post and you thought you might have a couple of likes to that, a few people in your network, and then it went around the world.
SDL: Exactly. I mean, it’s such a tragic story but the last thing I would ever have expected to happen to me and yet it happened in such a mundane situation – everybody takes the tube every day and nobody really thinks about how this could happen. The story went viral and it was not my intention at all, but that happened.
NK: I think it’s the way that you… your mindset and your bravery is just incredible. And that’s definitely coming across in everything that you’ve been posting. On the mindset element, I wanted to ask you about mental health. What has been really key for you to keep on top of? What’s helped you get through it? Obviously there’s been huge physical challenges, but what about the mental health side?
SDL: The mental challenges are just as big as the physical challenges. That was quite clear to me from the start and saying like, okay, there’s this whole physical element that I need to look after, but most importantly, I need to have a positive mindset.
I was privileged enough to get support from a psychiatrist at first and a psychologist specialising in PTSD and trauma. I still see the psychologist every week, and it’s really helpful because it unpacks all of these negative emotions that you would get in such a situation. The negative feelings are all there; the disappointment, the anger, the bitterness, – all of it is there, but I make a conscious decision every day to put those feelings into a box and save that box for when I talk to the psychologist.
NK: And what about the physical side? Obviously, you’re adapting to a new way of life. What have you found in going about your daily life that companies should be considering more, I guess, is what I’m trying to ask in terms of accessibility?
SDL: I was quite keen to return to work. You know me, I like keeping busy and I very much enjoy my job. I love the relationship with the industry. And it was quite clear in January when my husband returned to work full time and the kids were back at school and I was alone at home staring at the wall, I thought, this is where I can see depression getting hold of me.
NK: You need to keep your mind busy.
SDL: Exactly. And I was keen to return to work, but I was faced with this dilemma – I was going to go full in, five days and “I’m back and it’s okay”. But then I had to scale back this enthusiasm because the reality is I needed time to do all of the physio and know socket testing and all these things that need quite a lot of time.
And so I budgeted three days a week for everything to repair and then two days in the office with the idea of increasing those days as we go.
NK: It’s incredible you’re back to work eight months on and last weekend out hiking?!
SDL: Yes I went hiking, I wanted to test my limits. The prosthetic leg that I currently have is very good but I didn’t know what my limit was, and I pushed it to 7,000 steps and I thought, okay, this is still going great. And then we went on the hike and I was at 18,000 steps and I was still fine. I was tired, but I know where my limit is now.
NK: Incredible. And you’ve been fundraising for a bionic arm, tell us about that?
SDL: Yes, that was the idea of my husband and he had spoken to a few people who have had similar injuries and he was asking the financial questions – I didn’t think of that because I was just trying to repair myself and didn’t even think about the next step – and it was a really high price tag. We discovered that a bionic arm costs about £100,000. It’s an incredible piece of tech but it comes at a price. And on top of that, you have all of the physio that goes with it, all of the learning how to use it and that comes as an additional cost.
And so he set up the fundraiser on GoFundMe. I remember telling him we will never get £250,000, that’s mad, if we get the £50,000, it would be a massive win. And he said “trust, trust, trust, the people”… the response was incredible. We managed to get to the goal on the day that I left the amputee rehabilitation unit.
At the moment, I’ve got a mechanical arm that’s function is quite limited, it opens and closes the hook. The idea is that it performs as a training arm. It’s just for me to build up resilience and to train my shoulders to carry the bionic arm, which is very heavy.
NK: What would you say companies need to consider if they are trying to support somebody with physical or mental challenges? What have been the key things that have really helped your return to work?
SDL: For me, it was the dialogue and for me it was the ability to talk to my manager, talk to my colleagues in HR and clearly articulating what I was able to do at that time. And that conversation still is ongoing and being really honest to say “well, that I will have this difficulty”. For example, we explored anything from sitting at a desk, using the computer, how would that work. I’ve been trialling out different keyboards to see what worked best. Typing with one hand is a bit of a challenge so we also explored voice recognition or voice-to-word to see how that speeds up the process. That all works for me.
The difficulty with any disability, visible or invisible, is that they all different. They all have different needs and people have different abilities or boundaries. And so for me, I would say communication is key, and to have that communication, there needs to be trust enough from the employee to be able to talk about it openly. I can see that outside of the industry people are more aware about disabilities, physical, visible, invisible, and you see that there is a lot more thinking around diversity, equity and inclusion, but in a way that showcases it. Tommy Hilfiger, for example, I noticed they. in their advertising, they use people with limb differences. They just brought out a collection of adaptive clothing, which I found interesting.
NK: As we wrap up the interview, is there anything that you want to finish on? What would be your parting message?
SDL: There are always silver linings to what happens. My silver lining is I’m extremely lucky that I’m alive today. I know for a fact that I could have died 10 times that night and, for some reason, I didn’t, and I’m extremely grateful for that. And that is my contribution, hopefully to other people. I’d like to say life has this thing that it could change within seconds, and gratefulness is probably the best way to look at it.
NK: Well, we’re very grateful to have you here today. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us and all of your insights.
SDL: Thank you very much.