Critically acclaimed BBC journalist Frank Gardner made headlines in 2004 after he and his colleagues were ambushed by terrorists in Al-Suwaidi, a district of Riyadh in Saudi Arabia while working. He was shot six times and seriously injured, some of the bullets hitting his spinal nerves, leaving him partially paralysed from the thigh down, but he revealed he didn’t realise at the time just how close he was to dying that fateful day.
He and BBC cameraman Simon Cumbers had been filming with government minders when they were attacked by the group of Al Qaeda gunmen.
Simon was sadly killed while Gardner lived to tell the tale and returned to work in a wheelchair the year after, receiving an OBE for his services to journalism.
Recalling the events leading up to the ambush, the journalist revealed his past career in the army before he joined BBC helped him deal with the aftermath and his feelings during the incident.
In a recent interview, he said: “Being in the Army helped me enormously.
“I’d even go so far as to say it saved my life. In the minutes after I’d been shot, it allowed me to pare down all my thoughts to what I needed to do to survive.”
Gardner had served in the Royal Green Jackets and the Territorial Army, and noted how the strict protocols of military life surfaced in his hour of need.
“I needed to let the British embassy know I was down. I also thought, ‘Right, I have got to stay conscious.
“‘If I lose consciousness, I’m not going to come back up’,” he remembered.
Overall, he has undergone 14 surgical operations, spent seven months in hospital and went through months of rehabilitation, but he made friends along the way.
“In rehab I met many members of the military with life-changing injuries.
“I was massively impressed by their attitude, which was ‘roll with it and move on,'” he recalled during the interview with Radio Times.
While Gardner credited his military experience for giving him the “fitness”, “endurance”, “training” and “mental toughness” to get through the horrific trauma, he made friends for life from the recovery process, referring to them as a “big family that never leaves you.”
Detailing his account recently in a column for Mail Online, Gardner wanted to thank the man who affectively saved his life.
“For 48 hours, my life hung in the balance. To say I was lucky to survive is an understatement,” he wrote.
“I owe my life to surgeon Peter Bautz, a laconic South African who had run a trauma team in Cape Town before moving to Saudi Arabia.
“Going against conventional practice at the time, he forwent any unnecessary invasive surgery for the first 48 hours while I hovered, unconscious, between life and death, concentrating instead on stemming the internal bleeding and trying to stabilise his critically ill patient.”
Gardner’s full interview is available to read now in Radio Times.