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Chat: Paul de Gelder,

Monday, May 11, 2009
Paul de Gelder

Interviewer: 60 Minutes presents a live interview with Navy diver, Paul de Gelder.

Interviewer: Paul thank you for talking to us tonight, in our live online chat room, to tell your remarkable story.

Paul de Gelder: It’s a pleasure to be online to answer any questions you may have, I don’t really look at what I’ve been doing as anything special, but I hope that what I’ve done can possibly help someone struggling with their own motivations.

Goggles asks: Tell us your service history please so we can get a sense of who you are?

Paul de Gelder: I joined the army in November 2000, and was subsequently posted to 3RAR where I was in Charlie Company than Alpha Company, I spent 3 months peace keeping on the border of East Timor. After 4 and a half years, I decided to broaden my horizon and have a go at being a clearance divers, been doing that for 4 and a half years now.

oatsey6 asks: What did it feel like to get bitten? (Josh (10yold))

Paul de Gelder: I really didn’t feel it, it all went pretty numb to start with and it didn’t actually start hurting till I got to the hospital. So it really was just a bit numb, felt like getting whacked in the leg with a cricket bat.

marc95 asks: What sort of shark were you attacked by?

Paul de Gelder: It was a bull shark, we weren’t really positive about it, but a fishing boat that day caught a bull shark round about the same size. And they are known to frequent those sorts of murky water around those times as well.

gills-family asks: Where was your leg surgery done?

Paul de Gelder: It was done at St Vincent’s by Dr Tony Grad and Dr Kevin Ho, two amazing doctors.

oatsey67 asks: My 11 year old thinks what you have done is amazing, the fact that you have been through what many would have thought as life changing, GO PAUL how do you managed to maintain such a pstitive outlook?

Paul de Gelder: I try not to think about it too much at the start, and I just try to go about my normal life. Training a lot is what I do, and I’m not going to let this get in the way of what I did before. You gotta look at the good things in your life and hold them close to hour heart.

Tess asks: Before you go and dive in Sydney Harbour how will you prepare yourself for the emotions and feelings that you will feel?

Paul de Gelder: It’s kind of instantaneous after all the months and month of training; it’s all just natural instinct. You just make sure all your gear is safe, as well as your mates and just focus on the job at hand.

NayAger asks: Paul, fantastic to see you have come so far. As an ex-pusser and daughter of a CD (Bud Hillen). I hope that the Navy continues to support and give you everything you so greatly deserve. Will you be letting the media in when you get back with the Branch?

Paul de Gelder: Thank you for your nice words. The Navy as you would know has to clear everything that I say to the media and give me permission for everything regrettably so I don’t think I will be doing much with the media while I’m in the Navy. But once I’m free of my obligation to have everything cleared, I’ll probably talk a bit more about my situation and rehabilitation.

SongSparra asks: Just wondering in what capacity you will be returning to the Navy in, I assume from the interview you're not going to settle for them putting you behind a desk, so what are they (Navy) willing to let you return to and what are you hoping to do?

Paul de Gelder: Well no, I will definitely not be sitting behind a desk. Given time to recover and get back to full strength, once I get back to work, they will be setting some tests for me, I’ll have to jump through all the hoops to show that I can still function has a clearance diver , and I don’t see that being a problem. Worse case scenario I’ll remain as the trainer in the diving school, the Navy has been really great with helping me with my options.

traceyr asks: Paul were you wearing a shark deterrent device when attacked?

Paul de Gelder: No, we are not supplied with those in our tasks. They have been trialled in WA, but generally we don’t use them at all.

alexandra1 asks: Paul, did you feel depressed after your accident?

Paul de Gelder: No, never. I have just the most amazing support network, I just couldn’t ask for anything more.

amandagreg asks: What's the hardest thing you've had to endure in your rehab?

Paul de Gelder: Probably walking again, because I push myself to get back into it so fast, so the pain put onto my leg wound has been pretty terrible. Every night it is difficult to get to sleep because of the pains in my leg, but it’s mainly due to the fact that I am doing it so quickly, all of the rehab people keep video taping me because I keep doing things I’m not suppose to be doing, so they are very amazed. I just don’t want to be stuck sitting around.

NavyNate asks: Paul, I'm a Navy Lieutenant in the MHC world, so I work continuously with Divers. What advice would you give to the guys when it comes to dealing with service life and the risks we face every day?

Paul de Gelder: The best advice I could give is try not to take everything too seriously. See it as a life style, not a job. It’s one of the best jobs you could have and hanging out with your mates all day, and taking fulfilment in the fact that other people admire you for is something that I personally find very rewarding.

Pete_N asks: Hi Paul, do you know of other clearance divers that have also been attacked and lived to tell the tale?

Paul de Gelder: Actually no, I’ve the first one ever. Lucky me.

SongSparra asks: What actually is a clearance diver?

Paul de Gelder: A clearance diver has a lot of roles. Our job range from repairing damaged ships to doing Clandestine Missions, swimming underwater for hours in the middle of the night. To hunting for mines and doing underwater and above water demolitions. It’s the best job if you want to do a very broad range of tasks.

DIVERSDAWTA asks: Hi Paul. My Dad was a Commercial Diver and did a lot of work where your attack was before moving into International Commercial Diving. He's been a diver 16 years now, I always knew that his job was really risky but watching this and being a diver myself It really hit home for me how lucky he has been (TOUCH WOOD). Do you have children yourself who may feel like this ??

Paul de Gelder: No, I don’t have any children yet. But I have a big family and lots of friends who worry about me constantly.

Brooke asks: Although it was a shark that you were attacked by, do you believe that they should be caught / hurt as a result of anyone being attacked by a shark?

Paul de Gelder: No, I don’t really see the point in that. It’s futile to go out and kill everything that harms people, just because someone gets bitten by a dog, you don’t go out and kill all the dogs. Or people get hit by cars everyday, and we don’t take all the cars off the road. You just do what you can to work safely.

Jason asks: We saw the support of your NAVY mates, but how has the support of the NAVY been?

Paul de Gelder: The Navy in general have been pretty good, I think they’ve left it up to the people that I work with closest to maintain the most support, which is how I prefer it to be since these are people I know and trust. So it has been very good, I really haven’t had to ask for anything, it’s all been brought to me.

mjkasc asks: Do you think the shark would of attacked if you were actually diving and not just swimming along on the surface?

Paul de Gelder: I think statistically they attack more if you are on the surface, and having been dressed in all black with a couple of fins on, it really does make me seem a lot more like a food source. It probably would have been a lot less likely to attack me if I was diving.

AndiMac asks: Paul - has your doctor prepared you in any way to arm yourself against Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and if so how ? Please tell us all who have had trauma to be as focused and healthy in mind as you are !

Paul de Gelder: Initially the Navy supplied counsellors for me, I really didn’t feel the need to talk to any of them and pretty much sent them on their way, I really didn’t feel like talking to a stranger about my feelings. I felt a lot more comfortable talking to my friends, they are they ones who know me, who I have faith in telling me the honest truth. I guess I haven’t had any Post Traumatic Stress to do with the incident, I’m not sure why. I guess I’m just trying to get back to a normal life as fast as possible, and am completely focused on that.

katie07 asks: Does anyone treat you differently now that you've been attacked? I mean does anyone stare at you in the street or is everything the same as before? If so how do you deal with this?

Paul de Gelder: Yeah, I definitely don’t like being cooped up inside, so I’ve been outdoors a lot and with one hand and leg missing, you notice people having a bit of a look. But you just have to ignore it. But there is nothing you can do about it, you just accept it.

CassP asks: I understand that you are experiencing ghost pains, i hope they ease for you soon. Being a member with a prosthesis rehabilitation, are you following the normal build of a prosthetic limb or have they introduced you to a more flexible and durable limb to assist in your career path?

Paul de Gelder: At the moment I’m walking with a C-leg. And I don’t have any other legs yet because I can’t run at the moment, so once I am able to walk a bit better I’ll get a running leg. I’m just waiting on my surfing leg at the moment. I have a weight lifting hand now, and am waiting on my surfing hand and a proper hand. The Navy has been great with suppling me with the best prosthesis, the best money can buy. In the respect I’ve been extremely lucky.

inspiration asks: i am amazed by your recovery especially with your artificial leg! Do you see yourself helping others with rehabilitation and giving guidance to people?

Paul de Gelder: Yep, that’s something that I’d really like to do. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to get in touch with people that are struggling with their own demons and that’s basically why I did this story with 60 Minutes. I wasn’t paid, it was just so that people who have their own struggles can see that there is more to life, you don’t have to be weighted down by thinking of things you can’t do.

shloy2thed asks: What safety precautions does the navy take to prevent shark attacks?

Paul de Gelder: None really, if you are at sea and you are swimming than generally they will have someone at the bridge with a rifle, but other than that, there might be someone watching sometimes, but more often than not, it’s just a hazard that you accept in the job.

Brooke asks: At the time of this incident, were any of your other team members reluctant to dive the next time?

Paul de Gelder: I think there were a few cold feet so to speak, I also heard that there were a few who were just getting into the Navy that diving wasn’t for them. But you know, just like me, they are professionals and they love what they do, so it will never stop them from continuing.

katie07 asks: How long is your recovery going to take approximately?

Paul de Gelder: God knows! Well the doctors have told me that my leg may not shrink to its normal size. It’s really an individual case and different things may take different times. My hand is healing up really well, but it’s also very sensitive and it’s taking a lot of time to get it strong enough to weight bare, my leg on the other hand, I can walk on and I have no idea how long it will take before I can run on it.

Dave asks: Paul, do you think your sense of humour has been a key in helping you in your rehab?

Paul de Gelder: Yeah, you have to have a sense of humour. I think a lot of the guys in the military have a very dark sense of humour, which is why we can perform some of the tasks that we have to perform. But you have to look at things are laugh, because the other alternative is to cry and who wants to do that?

Splinta asks: In short I had a serious car accident in Jan 2000 and after 3 failed ankle fusions and many many many operations I elected to have my leg removed in 2004 and took up cycling 2005 Only to be struck by a 4wd after cycling 5500kms in preparation for the national Titles in 2006 - I now have neck and back injuries that prevent me from doing sport but I still visit patients in hospitals and homes - cheers Chris W

Paul de Gelder: Mate, you are amazing!

Christie78 asks: Paul - I have a cousin who was born without legs, a bit different to your situation but nothing stops her, she even water-skis! There is nothing you can't do. Is there anything you would like to try that you haven't done before?

Paul de Gelder: I’m a pretty adventurous guy and have done everything that will thrill me, but I’m sure there is always more and I’m always looking for something to do. I’ve never water skied so that may be on the cards, and my friend is a snowboarding instructor so he wants to take me out once I get a snowboarding leg. There is always something to keep you motivated.

kaztez asks: Has the "near death experience" had any affect on the way you look at life now?

Paul de Gelder: I really treasure what I have a lot more now, it’s brought into focus how close I am with my friends and family, especially after they’ve done so much to get through this hard time.

Inna asks: Paul, so amazing to see someone so strong mentally and physically in having survived such an event. I was just wondering, nowadays the navy is so equipped with technology... Was there no way of seeing sharks in the water?

Paul de Gelder: The ships do have sonar capability that could pick up something of that size, but they turn those off when someone is swimming in the water or close by, so you have to see them swimming in the water with your own eyes. If you miss that then you can’t pick them up.

cynth asks: Have you ever considered being a motivational speaker? Do you see yourself as a hero?

Paul de Gelder: I definitely do not see myself as a hero, and actually Peter Overton that I should go into motivational speaking and I’m sure it would be an interesting career path, I’m not sure I’d enjoy it. I’d much rather does a job that is interesting to me.

summer asks: It seems like you have an amazing network of family and friends around you, and your girlfriend looks to be really supportive. Have you been together for a really long time? How has your accident affected your relationship?

Paul de Gelder: We actually haven’t been together that long, we’ve been seeing each other for about a year, but this incident has really brought us a lot closer.

Bonnie asks: Hi Paul, if you don't mind me asking. How do you treat ghost pains?

Paul de Gelder: During the day it’s not so bad because I’m constantly moving about, the worst of it is when I go to bed and I’m laying there and there is nothing else to think about. So it takes me about 1-2 hrs to get to sleep, and the only way I can do that is to get my medication to help me get to sleep. During the day if it hurts, my girlfriends is good enough to massage it out for me, or really constantly moving position. It really is a constantly struggle and hopefully will subside.

girlfroms.a asks: Paul, you're so amazing and brave did you get the slightest bit scared when diving with the sharks in the aquarium?

Paul de Gelder: Initially I was just so excited I didn’t even think about it, but when I was standing there with the 3 metre nurse shark swimming over me, it did put a bit of fear into me with my over active imagination. But I’ve never been one to turn away from something like that.

lukemainey asks: Hey Paul... Luke Mainey speaking. We served in East Timor together in 2002 with 3RAR. I was in Bcoy at the time and I believe you were with C Coy. Good to see that you are still in good spirit after that bastard shark. Make sure you tell Ralph mag about it so they can write up a good response to it. After watching your interview tonight I am extremely proud to be a religious blood donor to keep guys like you alive. Did you lose much blood? And you are dam lucky that the shark missed that artery. Keep well and keep up that good spirit you have. Luke

Paul de Gelder: Thanks mate, I hope you are well. I did lose a lot of blood, the paramedics came and saw me in hospital that I had basically turned as white as the sheet I was laying on and I think I nearly died in that ambulance as well because I was really really struggling to breath.

s33hars_123 asks: Is there anything you would say to someone who is wanting to be a clearance diver? I am very interested in being one myself?

Paul de Gelder: I’d have to say, to me, it is the best job in the world. You get to travel around to beautiful places, hang out with your mates and so an exciting job that everyone wants to hear about. The best information I can give you is to get as fit as you possibly can before you get into it, everything else they will teach you. But be prepared for a lot of pain! You’ll learn to love it.

Interviewer: Unfortunately, we are out of time, do you have anything else you would like to share before we finish tonight?

Paul de Gelder: Thank you everyone for all the beautiful things you have said to me, it’s nice to know that people out there really do care. I just hope that by doing this story I have helped even one person to overcome their demons or get past some hurdle in their life.

Interviewer: Once again thank you and goodnight.

Interviewer: This concludes our chat with Paul de Gelder, Sunday May 10, 2009.

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