In another show of support for Varli Blake, a fundraiser was held at The Wonthaggi Plaza on Saturday where four teams hit the rowing machines in front of shoppers who were happy to donate while the competitors sweated it out. The Voyage Fitness team took the honours ahead of the Wonthaggi Power, Wonthaggi Paramedics and Wonthaggi Police. The event raised another $1200. See inside for more.
IT’S BEEN four months since Constable Varli Blake was seriously injured in a fire while on duty in Melbourne, and despite her ongoing rehabilitation, the South Gippsland woman can’t wait to get back to work.
Speaking in Leongatha on Sunday, Varli, who had her fifth operation late last week, said her progress has been slow but steady.
Most importantly, she wanted to thank the local community for its support that has not only allowed her family to spend time with her as she recovers, but has also opened up the possibility for her to access the best treatment available in the world.
The scars are gradually fading from the burns that affected 32.5 per cent of her body.
She has to wear special sleeves and bandages to soften the skin and reduce the scarring.
Some areas of skin that were not affected have been used in grafts. She said her upper body was saved from burns by her bullet proof vest.
“The pain is still there but it has definitely eased,” she said.
“I still sleep in a silicon-lined face mask.”
“I see a speech therapist five times a week who massages my face for an hour and a half.
“I have physio three to four times a week, but I only have to see a hand therapist once a fortnight now. I can make a pretty tight fist.”
Her fitness is returning, too.
Varli is preparing for the Angela Taylor Memorial Run/Walk at Albert Park where she’ll run 5km with colleagues to honour one of the police officers killed in the 1986 Russell Street bombing.
“I’ve been on the treadmill and I’ve run The Tan (almost 4km around the Botanical Gardens) so I’m ready for that.”
In October she’s planning to complete a half marathon as part of the Melbourne Marathon festival.
So physically, Varli’s making good ground. Mentally, she said she has good days and bad.
“I find it hard to go out in public by myself,” she said.
“I’m very self-conscious. People stare which is a bit rude. Kids are OK, they’re just kids, but adults should know better, especially in a hospital.
“Those bad days are becoming fewer. My sisters (Bianca and Courtney) have been fabulous.”
Bianca lives in Kalgoorlie but has spent lots of time at Varli and Courtney’s apartment in Melbourne.
Bianca’s new baby boy Cooper has provided plenty of lighter moments for the family during what has been a traumatic time.
While the details of the night of the explosion can’t be published as the court case is pending, Varli said Cooper provided the inspiration for her to get out of the burning building.
She said she remembers everything of that night.
“I didn’t feel any pain. If someone had have told me that I was on fire, I wouldn’t have believed them. That’s what adrenalin does.”
Varli was taken to hospital and placed in an induced coma so she would not move.
Her first two weeks were spent in ICU and then three weeks in a ward.
She was then expected to spend time in a rehabilitation hospital.
“I didn’t want to go. I just wanted to go home and be with my family.”
To do that, she was given a four-part assignment.
She had to go out into the community: “I helped spread my grandmother’s ashes at Rosebud, so I ticked that one off”.
She had to shower herself and dress her wounds, which she did, and then passed a physical test by climbing six flights of stairs.
“The final requirement was to satisfy the speech therapist but she made that easy by agreeing to come to me at home.”
Varli said she was also pleased to leave hospital due to the risk of infection. She had to deal with an infection in her cheek.
“I was OK to be at home, provided I didn’t change one of Cooper’s dirty nappies, and I was OK with that!
Varli said she has received messages of support from around Australia, and even from as far as the US and UK.
“I have a big box of cards from people I don’t know – people who have been affected by similar circumstances.
“One letter was from a girl in the United States whose dad was a police officer who was killed on duty.
“I met Alan McFayden (former policeman from Wonthaggi who was burned a few years back in an accident) yesterday and he said he’s always there if I need anyone to talk to.
“Not one person has been negative. Everybody has been so supportive.”
She said her former co-workers at the Wonthaggi Police station, where she was briefly stationed had been “excellent”, as have her colleagues at South Melbourne where she was working.
A regular visitor while she was in hospital was Chief Commissioner and fellow South Gippslander Ken Lay.
“He came in a few times and we just chatted about all sorts of stuff. I had mentioned to him that I was from South Gippsland when I graduated, and he said he liked to look after his South Gippsland people.”
Varli said it was with her colleagues, at the Triple Zero Hero Gala on April 5, in front of 800 people, “mostly coppers”, that she felt like a “human being again” despite her nervousness about speaking to so many.
Varli said she has no regrets about getting into the police force.
“I’d wanted to get in for 10 years prior to joining.
Within 12 months of taking her first exam, she became Constable Varli Blake.
Her first posting was to be at Ringwood, but when her mother Kathy was diagnosed with cancer, she requested a place in Wonthaggi where Kathy lives.
“They are the best bunch of people,” Varli said of the Wonthaggi team.
“We had a good laugh but they are also great teachers.
“Then I decided I wanted to go to Melbourne where you are exposed to more… as it turned out, I probably should have stayed there!”
But Varli clearly made an impression at South Melbourne and can’t wait to get back there to continue her training.
“It could be a couple of months away but that has to be confirmed.
“I just love the people you meet, whether it’s the people you work with, the people in the commission homes, the drunks or the homeless. It’s great to be able to help these people.
“I love it. It’s a fabulous job and I’d recommend to anyone. These are just the risks we take.”
Varli’s thanks for South Gippsland
VARLI wanted to thank the South Gippsland community for its support. The fundraising effort, led by Karen Wynne, Julie Bloch, Kristy Stephens and Kellie Thomas has generated $50,000.
That has not only allowed Varli’s family to be with her while she recovers, it has also opened up opportunities for her to access the best treatment available in the world.
“I’d just like to thank the community and everyone who has supported the fundraisers, or sent cards.
“These are people I haven’t seen in years and years.
“It amazes me how much people care for others.”
She made a special mention of the fundraising team.
“These girls have just been terrific.”
They’re organising one more fundraising event, a Sportsman’s Night this Saturday night at 6pm at Meeniyan to be hosted by former Melbourne player Gary ‘Bull’ Baker.
Guest panellists will include VFL identities Tony Jewell, Robbie ‘Bones’ McGhie, Shane Zantuck, Michael Young and Peter Giles.
Tickets are $50 and the cost includes a three course meal from Brett Sinclair.
“Hopefully these funds provide access for Varli to the best treatment available whether that’s at home or abroad,” Karen said.
A French clinic, Clinic Ster in Lamalou Les Bains is widely regarded as the best available, providing physical and mental therapy.
“We thought we might be able to raise $10,000. We never expected to raise such a high amount. It’s mind blowing.
“It gives Varli opportunities to access these sorts of treatments, so if she wants to go to France, she can go.”
If you would like to donate to the Varli Blake Family Appeal, bank details are BSB 704230 Acc. 100484824.