Sometimes an animal companion is the best medicine.
Almost four years ago, Sam Bloom went on a trip to Thailand that changed her life forever.
She loves going on adventures with her husband, Cameron, and their three boys, and this trip was no different. One morning, after a dip in the ocean, they decided to get a juice and sit on the roof deck of their hotel. Sam leaned on an unstable part of the railing and fell, landing on the tile floor 18 feet below.
Just like that, everything was different.
Sam broke her back and fractured her skull, causing massive brain bleeding and swelling. Her injuries were so extensive that she wasn't able to return home to Australia for three weeks and had to stay in the hospital for another seven months. When doctors told her she'd never walk again, she says, it felt like a significant part of her died.
Shortly after returning home, the family stumbled upon a tiny three-week-old magpie that had fallen out of a tree.
Little did they know how much the tiny bird would change their lives.
The magpie was in desperate need of love and care. After a quick call to a veterinarian friend, the family decided to take her in. She required a great deal of attention, including feedings every three hours, but soon started to recuperate.
They named the magpie Penguin. From that moment on, she was part of the family.
Penguin often acted like a pet, but the Blooms never forgot the magpie was wild. She got a nest made out of a laundry basket and could come and go as she pleased.
It felt incredibly special, Cam says, that Penguin usually chose to hang with them.
She loved to clown around with the boys, stealing food off their plates and pooping on their shirts.
Even though Penguin could be loud and messy (just like her brothers) she could also be the sweetest companion.
Penguin's warm, quirky presence was especially meaningful to Sam, who was still recovering from her accident in more ways than one.
"She was great company," Sam explains over the phone. "I was going crazy being stuck at home. She was always on my lap or shoulder. She was good for me because I would just talk to her and tell her what was going through my head."
Sam says she often felt like she was whining too much about her situation to Cameron (to which Cam quickly interjects "Never!"), so she fell into the habit of sharing her feelings with the magpie.
Over the next several months, Sam's mood improved as she watched her kids and Penguin play together.
When Sam had to do her physical therapy, Penguin joined her.
And even got in some PT training herself.
After a few months, it was time for Penguin to leave the nest.
Setting Penguin free wasn't easy. The family set her up in a frangipani tree outside their house, but she often came back inside to escape the other magpies who tried to dive-bomb her. Magpies can be quite territorial, and Penguin seemed to be infringing on claimed property.
Slowly, Penguin got used to leaving her human nest for longer and longer stretches. Then, over a year ago, she flew away for the last time.
Sam, ever an adventurer, made it onto the Australian para-canoe team and was away competing in the world kayak championship in Italy when Penguin left for good.
"Of course I miss her, but she came at a perfect time and left at a perfect time," says Sam.
The family was certainly sad to see her go, but Sam had been making major strides in her own recovery and finally felt she was in a good place emotionally and physically. The magpie had been there for her while she was recovering, just as her family had been there for Penguin when Penguin needed them.
No matter where she goes, Penguin will always be part of the Bloom family.
She gave them joy and love during a difficult time, and filled their house with laughter. Thanks to Cameron's amazing photography skills, the family also has a book full of incredible photos of Penguin enjoying life with them written by New York Times best-selling author, Bradley Trevor Greive.
It just goes to show that you never know what form hope will take when you need it most.
For the Bloom family, it happened to be in the form of a scrappy-looking magpie that needed their help; little did they know she'd end up saving them just as much as they saved her.