Everyone in my team remembers what they were doing the day the earthquake hit Christchurch, New Zealand in February this year. I was at home, perched on the sofa with my cornflakes watching breakfast TV. I almost choked when I saw the scenes of devastation unfold across the screen. I knew that in less than two hours I would be at work and on the telephone to British tourists in Christchurch, providing them with emergency assistance.
For the last seven years I have worked for Travel and Medical Assistance (TMA) and have been on standby for every international disaster since. Our small team, based in Surrey, provides global 24-hour assistance, 365 days a year to clients with UK travel insurance policies.
Before working in this industry I had never given a second thought to who would help me if I had an emergency on holiday. I am now proud to say that I am part of a team which frequently and discreetly deals with many prolific media cases and numerous emergencies across the world.
Kidnappings, murders, fatal snake bites, balcony falls, terrorist bombs and natural disasters – our team is on hand 24 hours a day for advice and logistical assistance to our customers abroad. Life and death There are 15 different nationalities within our TMA family and collectively we are fluent in 22 languages. You have probably read about our cases in the newspaper, not realising your colleagues have been directly involved in assisting the families and repatriating clients. It is such a time pressured environment and any delays could mean the difference between life and death.
Late one Sunday afternoon a doctor in South Africa phoned to notify us of a customer who had a badly broken leg. He had been on safari observing the elephants when one maternal mother charged his tour group. In their haste to move to safety, the jeep driver accidentally tipped the vehicle on its side, leaving the passengers with an array of injuries and stranded in the bush. Critical condition The elephants soon left, but on the horizon were a pride of sleepy lions. Can you imagine being stuck with a broken leg in the unbearable heat of the African sun, knowing that if the lions don’t get you then the lack of medical care could? Our client was in a critical condition. He needed to be airlifted to Johannesburg for emergency treatment and we had two hours of daylight in which to organise and pay for an aircraft and arrange for suitable medical treatment.
We immediately launched into action and our local African agent was able to arrange the £20,000 air ambulance. Thankfully, the injured client made a full recovery, but without the involvement of TMA he could have died. The patient and his family were extremely grateful and it’s an amazing feeling to know that you’ve been instrumental in saving that person’s life.
And that’s what I love about my work – you just never know what task you might have to tackle. What’s most exciting is that the majority of UK employees have the packaged bank accounts which contain free travel insurance. So if you have an emergency overseas you’re likely to come through to me.