Special Report: Abta’s charity is a lifeline for Mia

Special Report: Abta’s charity is a lifeline for Mia

Travel Weekly managing director Stuart Parish is raising money for former agent Mia Austin, who has locked-in syndrome. Juliet Dennis reports

Without a car, Mia Austin cannot go anywhere.

That’s because the 26-year-old former travel agent, who worked for The Co-operative Travel’s Heswall branch in Merseyside, has locked-in syndrome.

In 2010, Mia suffered a stroke the day before she was due to go on a fam trip to the US.

It left her paralysed. She cannot walk, move or talk and is in need of round-the-clock care. At first, blinking was the only way she could communicate.

Her lifelines to the outside world are her car, a wheelchair-adapted Kia Sedona, and her computer, through which she can speak and send text and email messages.

But that car is now in desperate need of replacement.

Freedom on wheels

Five years ago, Abta LifeLine helped to pay for Mia’s car, so she could get out of the house to go to the hospital and to see friends and family. The car has transformed Mia’s life. Her carers and family have been able to drive her to the cinema or gym.

She has also taken part in a range of experiences, from a shark dive and zip wiring to skiing and bungee jumping.

Mia is even helping others by, for example, delivering donations to the homeless.

In an email, Mia said: “I am so grateful to Abta LifeLine for raising funds towards my car. It is my lifeline.Without it, it would be like being in prison. It’s helped me to remain as independent as possible.”

Unfortunately, Mia now needs a new car. Abta LifeLine plans to once again help Mia, by raising £6,000 towards the cost of a new vehicle. And seeking to raise half that total will be Travel Weekly’s Stuart Parish, who will be taking part in a gruelling event in September (box, below right).

Back to work

For the first time since her stroke, Mia has been given a three-month work trial with Thomas Cook, parent company of The Co-operative Travel.

From home, she will be helping to support the production of a monthly newsletter for apprentices and to source information to be used on social media pages for the apprenticeship team.

Mia added: “Thomas Cook has been extremely supportive to me since my stroke. The work would involve me using my computer, which I operate by using my eyes.”

Looking ahead

Despite her condition, from which recovery is rare, Mia remains tirelessly optimistic about the future. She no longer needs a headrest and has even achieved small movements thanks to the help of a personal trainer.

Mia’s mum, Carole, said: “When she was in hospital, she had a rigid facial expression and had to use a headrest. Now she can move her head and her arm a little, and she can smile – she doesn’t miss a trick.

“On Christmas Eve, she surprised us by going in the water with her personal trainer. Mia had been practising small movements to show us. She is so determined.”

Travel Weekly managing director Stuart Parish will raise money for Mia Austin by competing in the gruelling 20-mile Rat Race Man vs Mountain 2015 challenge in Snowdonia in September.

Abta Lifeline will match the funds raised, up to £3,000. To sponsor Stuart, go to justgiving.com/BigStuTW

Abta Lifeline aims to raise its profile

Abta Lifeline will be the main charity at this year's Travel Weekly Agent Achievement Awards. The charity aims to raise its profile among agents who may be unaware of the help available to those in the industry in financial need.

"We want to reach out to grassroots agents and for them to hear about Abta Lifeline and go back to their offices and tell more people about it," says director Trudie Drake.

As well as helping in cases such as Mia's, Abta Lifeline supports people who have lost their job and need money for food and bills.

The charity, which relies solely on the industry for donations, is trying to encourage Abta members to donate £1 per employee every year to fund its work.


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