Sixteen people died in the attack at Brussels Airport. A further sixteen were killed when a suicide bomber exploded his device on a metro train. Karen was among the hundreds of people who were injured. She was standing two metres away from the suicide bomber. For months her life was a matter of life and death.
“The doctors thought I wouldn’t survive. I hope my story will provide inspiration for others” she tells VRT’s Caroline Vandenberghe. Karen underwent countless operations and had to learn to walk all over again.
A psychological blow followed the physical injuries. “After three years of hospital I experienced a second explosion. It was a psychological timebomb” says Karen, who stresses the need to stay positive. “I had a lot of conversations with therapists and that certainly helped tremendously.”
“For days and weeks I balanced between life and death. I’ve undergone around sixty operations. It’s a question of perseverance. I possess this thanks to my discipline as an athlete.”
Karen is a swimming champion and until the attacks a fitness coach and proud of her body: “My body was my temple. It was a kind of ‘enterprise’. On 22 March I went bust and that’s what I talk about in my book.”
The 22 March survivor also takes the Belgian authorities to task. She feels they didn’t learn anything from the attacks. Victims need to get more financial support, she says. “Paperwork too. You get too many demands to prove that you are a victim. You have to prove that year in, year out.”
Justice minister Van Quickenborne (Flemish liberal) recently announced coaches would be deployed to support victims. Karen doesn’t believe this will be much help. She insists other victims share her opinion that the authorities fell far short and continue to do so.