Australian author saves tsunami village, rescues self

Wed Oct 28, 2009 12:06pm EDT
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By Pauline Askin

SYDNEY (Reuters) - At the lowest point in his life, former Australian army engineer Donny Paterson broke into a clinic to steal drugs to feed his morphine addiction, but 2004's devastating Indian Ocean tsunami saved him from himself.

Paterson, who had a history of chronic injuries and depression, watched in horror as television stations showed the extent of the damage wreaked by the giant waves.

A few days later, he took a plane to Sri Lanka and, with little money and experience, joined three other independent volunteers who formed their own rescue team. The group then drive to Peraliya, a devastated village some 90 km (56 miles) from Colombo, and their actions helped to save hundreds of lives.

The efforts of Paterson and his group were documented in the award-winning film, "The Third Wave," which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York in 2007. A year later, actor Sean Penn became its executive producer and it was screened at Cannes, where Paterson also walked the red carpet.

Paterson's story, "No Ordinary Bloke" which he co-wrote with author Neil Cadigan, was published this month by HarperCollins Australia. He spoke to Reuters recently about the book.

Q: What happened to make you feel so, in your words, helpless, physically, spiritually and emotionally?

A: "A combination of things -- my medical discharge from the army, injuries I had sustained while in the army and a move to a new place where we really didn't know anybody. I suffered from depression for about the last 20 years. As a result of those things, I was in a pretty bad place at that point in my life and it took a tsunami to get me out of it.

There was Donny Paterson, a real down-to-earth, pretty decent guy, loved the army, loved his family, had a bad injury in the army and got addicted to morphine and then became druggy Donny. I'm not real proud of what happened in those days, but I'm not making excuses. I was pretty sick at the time but I was in denial, I guess. The morphine got hold of me. That part of my life is behind me."   Continued...