Historical Accuracy (Q&A):
Was Sam Bloom paralyzed when a balcony railing gave way?
Yes. Sam's fall seems to be portrayed accurately in the movie. The Penguin Bloom true story confirms that the accident happened while the family of five was on vacation in Thailand in 2013. While taking in the view on a rooftop deck, Sam, then 41, leaned against a rotted balcony railing, which gave way and sent her plummeting about 20 feet to the concrete below. While it was a miracle she survived the fall, she sustained serious injuries, including a broken back and severe damage to her spinal cord, which resulted in complete paralysis from the chest down. She underwent a six-hour operation in Thailand to put rods and screws in her back. She had bleeding on her brain from hitting her head during the fall and she was initially plagued by severe headaches.
Sam Bloom endured a six-hour operation in which doctors used rods and screws to stabilize her broken back. The rods and screws can be seen in the x-ray above. Photo: Cameron Bloom Facebook
After about three weeks, Sam was stable enough to be transferred back to Australia. It was there that she had an MRI and was told she would never walk again. Like in the Penguin Bloom
movie, she pulled the sheet over her head and burst into tears. In total, she spent approximately seven months in the hospital and underwent intensive rehab. -SamBloom.com.au
Did Sam Bloom's paralysis cause her to fall into a deep depression?Yes. In comparing the Penguin Bloom movie vs. book, Naomi Watts' character's physical and mental suffering in the film was taken almost straight from the text. Having been fiercely independent and a lover of surfing, running, and the outdoors, Sam Bloom found herself confined to a wheelchair and entirely dependent on others. She describes herself as being at the outer limits in terms of physical and mental suffering, crediting the discovery of the magpie as helping her to come back from the edge. -SamBloom.com.au
"I felt like the worst mum in the world because I wasn't the same mum," she told Mamamia. "I wasn't energetic and happy. I was angry and I felt so guilty that I wrecked their lives and their childhood." It took her a year to begin to ask for help.
Did Sam Bloom's son find the injured magpie?
Yes. However, he didn't find it on the beach. While visiting her mother's house three months after returning home from the hospital, Sam's son Noah found the injured magpie chick in an adjacent park after it had been blown out of its nest on a windy spring day. He discovered it in the grass after it had fallen 65 feet from a large Norfolk Island pine tree. Sam and Noah hurried home with the chick and made a nest for it out of an old cane laundry basket. They used a tiny blanket to keep her warm.
Why did they name the bird Penguin?
Like in the Penguin Bloom movie, the true story confirms that they named the magpie Penguin because of its black and white plumage, big feet, and the fact that its walk was initially more akin to a waddle.
Penguin the magpie in real life (left) and as depicted in the movie (right). Photo: Cameron Bloom, Instagram @penguinthemagpie
How did they manage to keep the magpie chick alive?Speaking from experience, keeping infant birds alive takes considerable research and dedication. In the case of the magpie chick that Sam Bloom's son Noah found, they did a great deal of research and received advice from veterinary specialists. They learned that Australian magpies are omnivores, but as nestlings, magpies eat a lot of insects, far too many than they would be able to provide. Instead, in order to provide Penguin with a diet high in lean protein, they combined a special list of ingredients into a paste that they would pinch between their fingers and hold above her head, similar to what a mother would do. In the beginning, she needed to be fed every two hours during daylight hours but would sleep at night.
Like in the Penguin Bloom movie, there were moments where they thought they would lose Penguin and nights where they worried she wouldn't survive until morning. In time, they could see she was growing and gaining strength. Eventually, she began to sit upon the branch they had connected to her basket. They watched as she started to explore and they eventually got to witness her first flight in the family's lounge room.
Did the magpie become Sam Bloom's constant companion?
Yes. The magpie, which the Bloom boys named Penguin, developed an unwavering closeness to Sam. The bird gradually pierced the veil of sadness in the house. Laughter returned and hope slowly began to replace sorrow.
The real Sam Bloom and Penguin, and their onscreen counterparts in the movie.
Did Penguin really jump into bed with them and lay on her back?Yes. The magpie was indeed known to snuggle in bed with members of the Bloom family and would even roll over on her back for an extra-comfy snooze or cuddle.
Did Penguin wait for the boys to come home from school?
Yes. She would perch in the orange tree at the edge of the yard and begin to sing when she heard the boys approaching.
Is Sam's husband, Cameron Bloom, a photographer?
Yes. The Penguin Bloom true story confirms that the real Cameron Bloom is a professional photographer. Many of his images can be viewed in the Penguin Bloom book and on the family's Instagram account. More images can be seen in the family's second book, Sam Bloom: Heartache & Birdsong, published in 2020. It tells Sam's own personal story of healing and struggle.
Actor Andrew Lincoln with the real Cameron Bloom in Avalon Beach, New South Wales, Australia. Photo: Sam Bloom Facebook
How long did Penguin live in the Bloom family's home?Despite always having the freedom to venture outside the house, Penguin the magpie chose to sleep inside with the family for at least the first six months. She'd mainly snooze in her basket or get some shut-eye while perched up on the window sill. Sam says that it was impossible to potty train her, and her "redecorating" all over the house became too much to keep up with, as emphasized in the movie. They made the somewhat difficult decision to keep Penguin outside. She mainly stayed in the large frangipani tree in their yard, which she had gravitated to in the past. That's not to say she wouldn't fly inside the house if they left a window open.
Sam Bloom with her husband Cameron and their three boys: Oli, Noah, and Reuben. Photo: Cameron Bloom Facebook
Did Penguin make a surprise visit on Sam's son's birthday?
Yes. By that point, Penguin would disappear for weeks on end. "We didn't know if she was gonna come back or not," says Sam's husband Cameron. February 15 was their son Reuben's birthday. As a joke, Sam said, "Imagine if Penguin came back." To their surprise, she did. She had flown into a neighbor's lounge room and the neighbor called the Blooms.
Does the real Sam Bloom credit Penguin with helping the family heal after the tragedy?Yes. "Penguin has redefined what family means, and helped us appreciate how powerful love and compassion can be," says Sam. "In the beginning, we thought we were rescuing Penguin, but now we feel this remarkable bird has made us feel stronger, brought us closer, and also helped to heal our family during a very difficult time, so in a way Penguin rescued us." Sam says that she felt a renewed sense of purpose in being able to look after Penguin and take care of her.
The real Sam Bloom (left) and Naomi Watts in the Penguin Bloom
movie (right). Photo: Cameron Bloom, Instagram @penguinthemagpie
Did Sam Bloom ever surf again?
Yes. Sam Bloom adapted to her paralysis. She took up paracanoeing and eventually started to compete, placing 13th in the world and capturing two Australian titles. She also represented Australia at the World Paracanoeing Championships in Italy in 2015. It's also true that she was able to surf again. Her determination resulted in her being selected for the Australian Adaptive Surf Team. She won gold for her country at both the 2019 and 2020 World Para Surfing Championships.
Sam Bloom paracanoeing in real life (top) and Naomi Watts in the Penguin Bloom
Was the real Sam Bloom involved in the making of the Penguin Bloom movie?Yes. In conducting our fact check of the film, we discovered that Sam was an executive producer on the movie and spent time getting to know Naomi Watts, who portrays her onscreen. On set, she helped Naomi accurately portray the physicality of being paralyzed, including getting dressed and doing transfers. "I really appreciated the fact that she wanted to make it real," Sam told Today. The movie was produced by Reese Witherspoon.
Adding to the film's historical accuracy is the fact that it was shot inside the Bloom family's real home in the oceanside community of Newport in New South Wales along Sydney's Northern Beaches. Reportedly, eight different magpies portray Penguin in the film, in addition to an animatronic bird and some CGI.
Sam Bloom with actress Naomi Watts. Photo: SamBloom.com
When was the last time the Bloom family saw Penguin?
The Penguin Bloom true story reveals that the family hasn't seen their beloved magpie since 2015. Penguin flew away the night before Sam's husband Cameron and their three sons flew to Milan to watch her compete in the Paracanoe World Championships for Australia (she had left three weeks earlier). "I think she came at the perfect time and left at the perfect time, because I was in a much better headspace," says Sam. "I hope that she started her own little family."
Has the Bloom family written more books?Yes. As stated earlier, the sequel to the Penguin Bloom book is titled Sam Bloom: Heartache & Birdsong. It offers Sam's honest and raw account of how the baby magpie helped to lift her from the depths of despair after her tragic accident, which left her paralyzed from the chest down. She also opens up about what her life was like before the accident, including fulfilling her dream of working as a nurse, traveling the world, falling in love, and having a family. Like the first book, it is accompanied by exquisite photography.
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