The part Kenny show on news talk with Marter private network during current restrictions. Don't ignore your health concerns. Our expert team is ready to help. My next guest has a remarkable story to tell. Zoe Holahan suffered a terrible tragedy in 2018 when her honeymoon in Greece turned deadly as she and her husband fell victim to a devastating wildfire. Her husband, Brian, was one of the 102 people to lose their lives in the fire while Zoe miraculously survived. Her new book is entitled As the Smoke Clears, and it details her journey since that horrible day dealing with trauma and grief while recovering from life altering injuries.
Zoe, good morning and welcome.
Good morning. Hi. How are you today? I'm very well, but I tell you something, I read your book in two settings over the weekend. It is a sensational book, absolutely sensational.
I have read thrillers with less drama in them than your horror story. Yeah, it is quite a story sometimes it's hard to believe that it's actually my story I'm telling, to be honest with you.
I mean, it starts in a wonderful way because you meet Bryan, both of you are second time rounders and you meet on foot of an online date. And it's just like magic. You hit it off as two people somehow just thrown together, miraculously meant for each other.
Absolutely. 100 percent meant for each other. And, you know, it was pretty much love at first sight for me, to be honest with you. I'm sure you probably got that from our very long first date. You know, so much for the quick cup of coffee at the local cafe.
Two days she became dinner, became a few drinks in the pub, and you knew that you were going to spend the rest of your life with him or that was the plan.
I was just thoroughly and I'd like to think it went both ways so I can pretty much. Yes. And say that's it. And yeah, I mean, look, we just started as romantic along. I definitely wasn't one to hang around. So when when you know, you know. So yes, it was wonderful. We had this phenomenal connexion from from the very beginning.
Now that the wedding happened in time because you were second time around, it wasn't kind of like the big massive wedding with thousands of people. It was for the people who really mattered in your lives. And, you know, you live together. And then you decided to get married and planned a honeymoon in Greece.
And that was your idea? Yeah, I call it one of my ifs in the book. You know, after Brian passed away and I survived, there was quite a long list of what ifs, wondering if I could have somehow changed our fate and changed that path that we ended up finding ourselves on. So, yes, Greece was my choice of destination. And Brian wasn't about some of the he's in the middle of the summer. So it took a little bit of persuading.
But I always wanted to kind of do the island hop. I wanted to see the ruins. I had been to some of the islands before, but I'd never been to Athens, for instance. So yeah, yeah. I kind of use my powers of persuasion, as I said, to get him to agree. And we ended up, yes, in a beautiful little place called Massee, which was just around quite close to the port of Rafina on the outskirts of Athens.
Now, your landlady just said, by the way, should the power fail and occasionally it does, here's an alarm key that you can open the gate to get out if you need to get out.
And of course, that became key in the whole terrible disaster of the fire.
Yeah. And I mean, you know, I said I thought, well, you know, what's so bad about being locked in a beautiful villa with your gorgeous new husband if the power goes out? You know, I kind of just wrote that away as soon as as a leak goes, the name of the owner of the villa. But yes, unfortunately, on the day on the July 2013, 2013, the power did indeed go out. And by the time we realised that we were all trying already trying to escape the villa, we had a hired car.
But unfortunately, the electric gates didn't open. There were very high electric gates. There were nine or ten feet tall. And this was our only way out to the main roads. And this was a route to escape. So we tried the island key, but the island key, equally so failed, failed us. Just to kind of give you an idea, at that stage, the garden was on fire everywhere around us. You know, there were these little I describe them as little tornadoes of flying debris whipping up around us.
As the as soon as you know, from reading the book, we decided to just scale the gates, jump over to get out onto the other side, and that was what we assumed was the best way to escape.
Yeah, it's a part of that escape. And you're rushing down the road. You think you're going to the right where you meet people coming the other way saying, no, no, no, you can't get through to the water that way. The fire is too strong. You come across some children, a toddler in nappies as well.
And they are I mean, it was it was literally it's literally like trying to describe your very worst nightmare. You know, everywhere we went, we were met with walls of fire and there was immense confusion. It was very difficult to breathe. So the air was it was like swallowing acid. So every breath was painful. Our eyes were screaming. It got really ominously dark very quickly, because you're only talking about early afternoon because the smoke was so thick and he was just you know, they reported up until late 50s the heat on that day.
And then, yes, in the midst of all of this and at that stage, my dress had already caught on fire, which Brian had put out with his bare hands.
We were running. We didn't know what direction we were going in, to be honest with you, at that stage. But, yeah, we encountered this little group of kids, just they just literally emerged out of nowhere. And four or five of them, I learnt later there were five of them. But at the time I couldn't really tell you because we just scooped these kids up in our arms. And lo and behold, much like the children came from nowhere, a car appeared right in front of us on the road and we managed to get the children into the back of the car and into safety.
And then, of course, we realised with three other adults in the car, along with the children, there wasn't any room for us. So we asked the driver to open the boot and we climbed in. Now, it's an extraordinary story then that the car crashes and, you know, Brian was heroic in these moments before he died.
He always was. He always was. That was his nature. I spoke about, you know, some of the work he did with glove boxes. Brian just had that in him. You know, he was the kindest, strongest man I ever knew. And absolutely he was a hero and he saved those children's lives.
You know, your own life was saved by a man. And you eventually year, a couple of years arm got to make contact with him again.
But what did he do?
Because it turned out he was only a volunteer firefighter. He wasn't a full time firefighter. He was just a volunteer with a wonderful cast.
And I obviously didn't realise that at the time. Now, he was wearing sort of the, you know, the protective firefighter gear. His name is Magnus Sallyanne. Yes. He is an absolute hero. And he and a small group of other volunteers saved so many lives that day. And he found me in the boot under the burning tree. And he assumed I was dead, actually, and I was severely burned over at that stage. But I blinked the one eye that would still open the right eye.
And he he just literally scooped me up, scooping up out of the boot and carried me through. I know I use this analogy a the balls of fire. That's what it feels like. You're just passing through a wall, sheer wall of fire to a truck or fire engine of some sort where he he put me in the front and I was I was basically rescued.
But the really, you know, it was wonderful, wonderful to make contact with Manase actually through Facebook direct message and a considerable time later. And two things obviously emerged where we've been speaking consistently ever since, you know, said good morning to each other this morning. You know, first of all, I discovered that the children all survived totally unharmed, which was wonderful because I had this nightmare. I had a collection of nightmares, but one in particular of this little baby, you know, in the NAPI reaching out his hand.
And I couldn't reach him. So it was about was nigh a year and a half, two years before I actually discovered that they were all OK, everybody in the car was OK. But the really cruel twist of fate, as Brian was just a couple of metres away, you know, he, too, could have been saved. This all happened at such a fast pace. So he was the only one that didn't survive. We all survived everybody else.
And that comes off our Brian. So I was very young.
And your journey to recovery, which is still ongoing because with plastic surgery, skin grafts and all the rest of it trying to get mobility, basic mobility is part of your journey, trying to stand, trying to walk, trying to get the action back in your hands so you can do things.
But it is an extraordinary adventure in survival on your part determination. You are afflicted by nightmares, by delusions, but you are also blessed by some of the finest doctors and medical staff nurses that I have ever read an account of in any book anywhere.
Yeah. And I mean, I say that if it's a love letter to burning in parts, you know, and about his legacy, it's equally so a love letter to all the health care workers. I mean, I got phenomenal care from both Mr Mutualised and his team in the midterm nothin's to the incredible group of people and the ongoing care that I can still, you know, continue to get worse under Mr Charolais and Mr Cochlear with my plastic surgeons and in St James's burns unit and the nurses.
I mean, my God, you know, there's no such thing as, you know, beyond the call of duty is probably the best way of putting this. You see all these amazing gestures and they are just the sheer kindness that I experience. They're the ones that will me on to live. Yes, I am stubborn.
I think that possibly comes across quite clearly in the narrative. But, you know, all of these people put so much effort into putting me back together again, as I call it, Humpty Dumpty put all these pieces back together again. You know, I have to keep fighting for them.
And as much as you were so well looked after in the private hospital in Greece and then for insurance reasons, you had to come home, you know, a medical ambulance available. You either take it now or you don't get it kind of thing. You came home and then to compound matters.
You contracted this rare condition called toxic epidermal necrosis, or T10 for short. I mean, talk about being unlucky.
Yeah, it was a really cruel twist of fate. And I mean, this really was this really was my battle to survive, to be honest with you, because Mr. Shelley basically told my family that if things didn't turn around within 48 hours, you know, I wasn't going to make it. So basically, it's it's such a rare form of sepsis that one in a million in Europe gets it each year.
So you lucky one in a million.
And I mean, I was placed in an induced coma. I had multiple organ failure. My body, the skin, the areas where I which hadn't been actually affected by the fire, where I hadn't been burned, then started to blister and burst open. So I acquired a whole new set of medical complications, but also a whole new set of scars.
And I lost my hair, you know, which that was in the greater scheme of things.
By the way, your hair, your hair and your wigs are they have a life of their own almost in the book.
It's you know, you knew what what what my mood was on any given day, depending on what colour I chose from my selection of dodgy wigs.
So has no delusions that you suffered from at times you thought that your brother and your father, who had already died while you were in Greece, unfortunately, he had bad health even at the time of your wedding, but you imagined that they were attacked by terrorists and this was as real to you and that Steven was dead and that when you saw him that it was, in fact, his ghost visiting you in the hospital, not the real man.
Oh, yeah. The morphine induced visions once I came out of the coma were just so real. So I yes. First of all, I was convinced that Steven God Steven had asked way.
And then when, you know, the doctors and nurses explained to me, they could see them and they could see him and they could converse with him. But then I realised, well, that's not a rational thought. So I thought I decided, well, he was actually a robot and Steven was off saving the world elsewhere because I still had this feeling, this constant fear in me that we were under attack. And of course, you've got to remember that when I woke from the coma, I had a tracheostomy.
So it was very difficult for me to speak. You had to use vowels in my throat in order for me to be able to speak, you know? And I was hooked up to every machine. I had tubes and virtually every orifice tubes were tubes should not go. So, you know, it was it was a very confusing time for me. Yes. There were visions of, you know, Steven Steven was a robot.
And I also saw monkeys everywhere. So my monkeys were my little protectors. And they were, you know, dreams from the coma world that came alive in my waking hour. So it was.
I don't want to just tell too much of your story, because I want everyone to to buy that book and read it. It is such an inspiration, I have to say, for me, reading it and also just an unpredictable book, there's no no question about it. So I might cut to the chase. Post-Traumatic stress disorder. It can come and go. How are you today? Are you are you in a good place?
I'm I'm in I'm in a great place today. I mean, the work I did with doctors on your caller, who was my psychologist in St James's, you know, we yeah, it was very intense. And I had a lot of therapy, required a lot of therapy, but the CBT worked phenomenally well and basically I haven't had any flashbacks in considerable period of time. So and, you know, look, when the fear sets in and there are little triggers, bizarre triggers, weather tends to be my biggest trigger.
So sudden change in weather kind of brings me back to Marzi and to the sound of, you know, the screeching wind. Yeah. I mean, look, it's there, you know, it's still there in the back of my psyche. But I can deal with it now. And it and it doesn't follow through into these horrendous flashbacks, which I describe in the book. But yeah, no, I'm all in all, she did a phenomenal job.
So I don't I'm not entirely sure how she made them go away, but yeah, she did.
Well, Kelly, one of our newstalk texta says I'm in tears listening to Zoe. What an amazing, eloquent and brave woman, especially to listen to her speak out on International Women's Day. She gives so many people hope in times of loss, her wonderful husband will shine down on her forever, wishing her the very best always. That's from Kelly. Zoe, thank you very much for joining us. The book is called As the Smoke Clears, and it's available online.
I suppose the bookshops not open yet, but do buy from your local bookshop. Sixteen ninety nine is the price. And Zoe Holland, thank you very, very much for joining us on the programme today. Thank you, sir.
I really appreciate it. Thank you.