The trade has paid tribute to former travel agent Mia Austin as an inspiring individual determined to get on with life despite being “trapped” in her own body.
Mia, 30, died suddenly and unexpectedly on June 26.
She worked for The Co-operative Travel in Heswell in Merseyside until 2010 when, at the age of 21, she was left paralysed following a stroke the night before a US fam trip.
Despite being diagnosed with locked-in syndrome, Mia went on to travel worldwide, undertake charity work and write a book about her life using just her eyes called In The Blink of an Eye. She was named Merseyside Woman of the Year 2019 two days after her death.
Among those to pay tribute to Mia was Mike Greenacre, former managing director of The Co-operative Travel Group.
“Mia made an immediate impression on me for when I asked her about what she wanted to do with her career in the future. The response was “to do your job of course”,” recalled Greenacre, who built a strong bond with Mia following his first visit to her branch and kept in touch with her and her family following her stroke.
Her death was a “sad loss” to those who cared for her but also to those she supported and saw as worse off than herself, he said.
He added: “Mia was simply an incredible loving and thoughtful human being for despite her severe condition she has been an inspiration for so many. The charity work she has undertaken both in the UK and abroad in these past years has helped so many people.
“Mia decided very early on with the challenges she faced to just get on with life despite all of her difficulties. She had an attitude of ‘everything is still possible’ and with the fantastic support from her family and friends she made certain that these were not just words.
“Mia leaves behind a legacy that will live on forever and her recent award as winner of the Merseyside Woman of the Year will be testament to that.”
Following her stroke, Mia was supported by travel industry charity Abta LifeLine, which helped raise funds to buy her a “lifeline” – a specially adapted car so her carers and family could drive her to the hospital, to see friends, go to the gym or cinema.
Abta LifeLine director Trudie Clements said: “We are so sad to hear of Mia’s passing. She was a determined young lady, and despite her condition threw herself into raising funds for charities; constantly challenging herself.
“LifeLine was delighted to support Mia with a specially adapted car to help her see her friends and places she loved to visit.
“On a personal note, it was a pleasure to know such an incredible person. She was an inspiration to us all. Our thoughts are with her family and friends at this time.”
The charity stepped in a second time in 2015 to raise £6,000 towards the cost of replacing the car. Travel Weekly managing director Stuart Parish raised half of the funds pledged by Abta LifeLine towards Mia’s replacement car by completing the 20-mile Rat Race Man vs Mountain 2015 challenge in Snowdonia.
He said: “I was so proud to be able to support Mia. I remember reading the original story about her in Travel Weekly in 2010 and being immediately touched by it. I am so sad to hear Mia has passed away at such a young age.”
Mia also campaigned for airlines to allow wheelchair users to sit in their own chairs on board aircraft in a petition that has attracted more than 76,000 signatures. She had been fundraising to go to Calais refugee camps this month and had planned to go to orphanages in the Gambia in November.
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