Published: 06:00, 08 October 2020
| Updated: 09:52, 09 October 2020
A young man in his prime, Tom Lazarides could have been forgiven for feeling invincible. Sporty, clever and popular, the 20-year-old student's life lay in front of him, brimming with opportunity.
But in a split second a swimming pool accident changed everything. Reporter Rhys Griffiths spoke to his mother about the long road to recovery ahead and the incredible power of friendship.
"He's a very much-loved boy, thank god, because he's going to need it," Bridget Lazarides says, reflecting on the huge outpouring of support for her youngest son Tom.
Hanging out at a friend's swimming pool earlier this summer, the 20-year-old student, who grew up in Cranbrook , dived into the water and hit his head, fracturing his neck and injuring his spine.
As his friends rushed to his aid, mum Bridget received a call that all parents dread.
"He was with a very small group of friends and their parents in their swimming pool in Etchingham," she said. "And I got a phone call to say he has had an accident and an ambulance had been called.
"Then I got a call to say the air ambulance was there and I said 'just wait, I need to get there' and I got there as the air ambulance appeared.
"When I first got the call, oddly, I felt phenomenally lucky that his friends are close enough to Tom that they could phone me and tell me what had happened, because without that, who knows where he would be, and I was devastated for him, and when he became so ill and survived - he very nearly died - I felt incredibly grateful that he was alive.
"That's not to say I don't spend lots of the day thinking 'god, this is going to be a long road', but I am incredibly grateful that he is alive, incredibly grateful that he is not brain-damaged and incredibly lucky that he is starting to recover some of the movement that he had.
"In all honesty, in the long-term prognosis, who knows? But we have to believe, for him, that it's going to be fine. And what his brothers said, 'it is going to be fine, we don't know what fine is, but it is going to be fine'."
Airlifted to an intensive care bed at King's College Hospital in London, the former Sutton Valence School pupil was entirely unable to move and could breathe only with the assistance of a ventilator.
Then, not long after the accident, he contracted an illness called rhabdomyolysis, which very nearly killed him.
"He had fractured his neck in two places, and he has injured his spine, and the spinal injury is the issue.
"In the first week he was doing really well, getting arm movement back, but then he became phenomenally ill in hospital, with a thing called rhabdomyolysis, which destroys your muscles, so although he has got limited movement because of the spinal injury, he has also been very, very ill.
"Slowly, slowly he is getting better. He is off his ventilator now and he has had the collar taken away and he is slowly getting arm movement back but it is very, very slow. But we have to believe it will happen. I'm determined to believe that we will get him back."
With evident pride in her voice, Bridget describes Tom as witty, kind and very sporty. And she says that he loves Kent and "can't imagine why anyone would live anywhere else".
His love for his home county - and his sporting passion for cricket - are matched only by the incredible display of love and affection shown by his friends, who have launched a huge fundraising effort to support what will be a long road of recovery.
Fellow Sutton Valence alumni Jordan Davis, a photographer from Tunbridge Wells, started a project to make a photo book of pictures and words from Tom's friends and family.
Initially it was simply intended as a gift for the Durham University student's family but now he hopes to sell copies to friends and family to raise money for Tom's appeal.
Artist Kate Neame is selling Christmas cards to raise funds, Tunbridge Wells band 199 are donating the proceeds from their new album and Tom's best friend Will Bryant is running a marathon .
Such incredible displays of support - which has included a video message from England and Kent cricketer Zak Crawley - have shocked mum Bridget, who never realised just how popular her son is.
"I knew I loved him, but what I didn't know is how extraordinarily loved he is. His friends have been coming from all over the country to see him, people have been getting in touch asking to come and see him, and his friendships have been so important to him that even the hospital is prepared to ensure he is facilitated to see people, even in the current crisis, because they are aware that without that his rehab would have been far, far more difficult.
Watch: Zak Crawley's get-well-soon message for Tom
"The thing that his friends say of him is that he has never, ever had a bad word to say about anybody. Which is, I think, why everybody has just rallied round him in such a way."
Although Tom remains in intensive care almost four months on from the accident on June 13, the fight is now on to secure a bed at a leading spinal injuries unit at Stoke Mandeville hospital.
"That is absolutely vital to him having a fulfilling life," Bridget said. "It's absolutely true.
"That will give him the beginnings of his recovery. When I spoke to a surgeon the other day he said they are hopeful that with the right support, the right physio, Tom will make a full recovery. Nobody knows, but the hope is that he will make a full recovery, but not a prayer without proper intensive physio.
"The fundraising is to provide his physio for his longer-term care and support in terms of mobility and things like that. We just don't know what he is going to need in the long term. We hope that he is going to make a full recovery but as it stands he has got very, very limited movement. The movement in his arms is coming back and he is now able to breathe unaided, which is huge. It's an expensive, long-term process."
"Something inside him said he was going to live..."
Tom's mum thinks that without the mental fortitude her son has shown in the face of such incredible adversity, he may not have made it.
His incredible drive is epitomised by the fact he still hopes to complete his business studies degree while he undergoes rehab.
"I did not realise what a resilient boy he was," his mother said. "He really is, and his neurosurgeon said had he not been so determined, something inside him said he was going to live.
"It sounds like a Hollywood drama, but he really did. He really decided that's what he wanted and that makes you think that actually he is going to be OK.
"We are ever hopeful. He has got a good two years of rehab, and in two years scientific discoveries will be much better. It's better for him to be in this position now than it would have been 10 years ago."
Tom's family say any money left over once he no longer needs intensive rehab will be donated to charities working to aid those who suffer spinal injuries.
They also hope that by speaking about what happened, they can help raise awareness of the dangers posed by swimming pool accidents, which claimed the lives of three people last year.
"We are really trying to raise awareness, not only for spinal injuries, but also if someone has a swimming pool injury how they should be looked after when it happens. Because if it ever happens you're meant to just keep people upright in the water, not take them out until the emergency services get there.
"Tom was very lucky because his friends were very aware of this and they ensured that he suffered no more spinal damage. These accidents happen all the time but if you can prevent anybody else having another one, even one person, or anybody suffering further damage, then that's really good.
"It sounds a little bit naff, you know, but is does make a difference."