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Sue's Story

Susan Greenwood survived the 7/7 London Terrorist Attacks

Behind every scar there’s a story and this story is mine.

Where do you start when you're telling a story about yourself? At the beginning or now? How far back do you go? What to include? What do you think people want to read about you? All questions I’ve asked myself before writing this piece for The Scar Free Foundation.

So just, to be different let’s start with the now! I’m Susan Greenwood, 45yrs old (April 2021). I live in Bournemouth with my Husband, two children and two dogs. I have worked for the NHS all my adult life and currently work for NHS England and NHS Improvement. I’m passionate about the NHS and healthcare and feel proud to be involved both professionally and in my personal life as an Ambassador for The Scar Free Foundation.

I’m an above knee amputee, have too many ailments to mention in this text but suffice it to say I have spent the last 16 years in and out of Hospitals for many different reasons. How I ended up in this position always revokes the same response from people ‘oh my goodness’, ‘that must have been awful’, ‘I was / my brother was / my friend was in London that day’, and my favourite ‘you’re so brave and an inspiration’. How on earth did I end up an inspiration for being me, and for doing the most normal thing after a tragedy, to simply live on and enjoy life?! So I guess that’s where I need to go back to the start of this incredible journey of mine, of my Husband’s and of my Family and my Friends.

A little bit of history first. Born in The Medway Towns, went to college, started work, trained as an Operating Department Practitioner, decided to travel the World with friends, lived and worked in Australia, came home and lived in Kent for approximately 5 minutes before realising I needed more from life. Got myself a job in London and off I went to start my new life. But the real story starts a couple of years later when I was 29 years old and I was the healthiest I had ever been in my life and indeed the fittest. I ran, cycled, circuit trained, swam and anything else that life could give. I worked at Great Ormond Street Hospital in the operating theatres as one of their Senior Operating Department Practitioners. I lived with my boyfriend (now husband) in North London and life was good. I distinctly remember my 29th birthday where my boyfriend surprised me with a trip to Le Touquet in France. We were flown by our two friends Alec and Frank who were trainer pilots in two little prop planes. We took bikes from the airport to Le Touquet town. Had lunch and champagne and flew back to meet friends for dinner. I mean this was what dreams were made of for a girl from Gillingham in Kent.

Life was really very good.

Suddenly all of that changed when I was travelling to work one day.

On the 7 July 2005 I was caught up in the atrocities that struck London when 3 tube trains and 1 bus were used as targets by terrorists using explosive devices to maime and kill innocent people.

I was travelling on the Piccadilly Line in the first carriage of a tube train when Germaine Lindsay boarded. He told me I’d have a good day. To me, just another person in London trying to make conversation with a stranger - clearly he didn’t know that no one speaks to strangers on tubes in London! 200m into the tunnel between Kings Cross and Russel Square and he detonated his device killing 26 innocent victims, seriously injuring lots more and placing mental scars on many forever more. I was merely two feet away from him at the time and I can tell you it was a weird feeling.

To describe an explosion is really hard. It’s a power, a force, it’s black, it’s quiet and so many other things I’ll never be able to adequately put into words. I woke up on the floor of the tube. I must have lost consciousness for a few minutes but I don’t recall getting hit on the head or anything, simply the explosion knocked me out.

When I woke up it was deathly silent.

I instantly knew it was an explosion. I knew it was a bomb. I knew it was Al-Qaeda. In London we’d been gearing up for emergency responses and plans as it was clear a terrorists attack would come. Never did I think for one moment that I would be injured instead of assisting. My first memory is of thick smoke and I was searching for fire. Luckily, and I am grateful to this day that there was none. I knew My leg was so badly damaged it would need amputating but having been in many trauma theatres, I also knew it wasn’t the end of the World. I never feared for my life, always knew people would come to our rescue to save us in any way they could. These moments are the ones where healthcare, Police, Fire and other amazing teams incredible knowledge kick in and they perform in exceptionally difficult circumstances in order to preserve life. I’m eternally grateful to those people and it’s why I joined the profession in the first place.

In short, my left leg had to be amputated above the knee, my right was severely damaged and required skin and fat grafts to cover the blast wounds, I have lacerations, cuts and burns all over my body and many other injuries. I had around 30 operations in 1yr. Despite all of this with true grit and determination and help of my husband, my friends and my family I was able to move on quickly.

I returned to life at work, at play and at sport in a short period of time. I credit this to those around me who ensured I was safe. My life has continued on its wonderful path of discovery and it’s often easy to forget what happened and how significant it was.

I became involved with The Scar Free Foundation (then The Healing Foundation) shortly after 7/7 when my plastic surgeon, Simon Withey, introduced me. I was asked to attend Mark’s & Spencer’s headquarters in London to be a guest at an event for Scar Free. Simon explained that Scar Free were a charitable organisation that were undertaking vast research into scarless healing and that their mission is to achieve that within a generation.

Clearly this was fascinating research to me and I understood that they needed cases for support to put the message across to its investors and supporters as to why this Mission was so important and why it holds such value to the country and World. I was delighted to offer my support as an Ambassador and continue to do so to this day.

You see, scars aren’t just about the physical ones that you see when you come across someone. They tell a whole story about someone’s unique journey through life. For the individuals who have the scars they are reminders of the worst (and sometimes the best) times of their life, they can be psychologically damaging and affect a person physically by their limitations Some may fade but they don’t disappear. They’re brutal, they can hurt, they can make you embarrassed, upset, traumatised and so many other things in between.

My scars are varied, amputation, skin and fats grafts, surgical wounds and burns here and there. People don’t necessarily think of an amputation as being a ‘scar’ however I have learnt that it is. It carries the same trauma and psychological effects as any burn or wound.

I never thought I was affected though until probably 5yrs ago. I always thought I was positive about my appearance and that my involvement with Scar Free was to support others and to support their research. I didn’t have hugely visible scars of my face, neck or arms so didn’t feel that warranted my attention.

What I hadn’t realised was that I hid my scars for years and years. I covered my false leg with foam and a prosthetic cover to look ‘normal’, I never wore shorts or skirts unless they were long. I wore tights all the time. I was indeed embarrassed and possible still am some days. Those actions are not of someone who is comfortable in their own skin and with their own appearance. Those actions are deeply entrenched and psych, and will continue to take years to unpick if ever going back to my pre-injury life.

I’m now coming to terms with all of that having been liberated by the London 2012 Paralympics and have ‘freed’ my leg and myself from those demons to some extent. I have a metal visible leg, I only wear tights when it’s cold and I flaunt my wounds freely.

However, wouldn’t it be wonderful if this wasn’t the case. If anyone that ever had a scar or wound could heal themselves. That they could ‘grow’ a new leg like our dear Salamanda friends, or if when people were scarred, it was temporary and they faded away along with the memory of what happened. If there was a pill / treatment / genetic modification to fix all of this would we all want to have that. In a heartbeat for me and many others I’m sure.

Please take the time to read my fellow Ambassador’s journey’s. Absorb a little bit of what life is like each day for those with scars. Try to imagine what it would be like for you or your Family or Friends to experience such scars. When you’ve done that you’ll understand how important the research the Scar Free Foundation undertakes is and you’ll understand why it needs your support.

If we can prevent others from experiencing the physical and psychological aspects of scars then any organisation that has that as their Mission has my full support. This is why I’m an Ambassador for The Scar Free Foundation and this is why you’re reading my story now.

Behind every scar, there’s a story. Visit our ambassadors: