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Trial of the Brussels attacks: “I took off from the ground and then it was dark”, a first victim testifies, between emotion and mental strength

Amputated with both legs below the knee, Béatrice Lasnier de Lavalette, 24, returned with emotion to the sinister day of March 22, as she was preparing to join her family in the United States. “I took off from the ground and then it was dark. A little later I regained consciousness and saw my leg bent at a right angle,” she recalled outside a courtroom busier than usual. Then the first responders arrived. “I glimpsed a door that seemed to me like a light in this darkness,” she recalls. “I then understood that I was not dead”. Once taken care of by the emergency services, she lost consciousness and remained in a coma for a month.

Her daily life was then a succession of surgical operations and skin grafts, tossed in turn between intensive care, the rehabilitation center and the military rehabilitation complex in the United States where she was admitted for treatment.

Beyond the physical recovery, “it took me a lot of mental strength to overcome these events. I was 17 and my life was over,” she explains, transfixed. She then set herself a series of objectives, supported in particular by her family. Among these, getting her diploma and getting back in the saddle, after a moving reunion with her horse, who waited for her during her long weeks in the hospital.

Trial of the Brussels attacks: some victims will not have the courage to come and testify

Béatrice has now become a professional athlete, a member of the American equestrian sports team since 2021. She says she lives with ups and downs, and holds on thanks to a mental strength forged since the facts.

Before her testimony, Aline Fery, lawyer for the victims’ association Life4Brussels, had warned that several victims of the attacks of March 22, 2016 who had been called to the bar would not have the courage to come and testify. “Some people do not have the strength to face the Assize Court, the gaze of the accused, the suffering. This does not mean that they have no interest in the Assize Court, far from it. ‘just don’t have the courage,’ she said.

And in fact, from the first day of the testimony of the civil parties, two relatives of victims who died in Zaventem, and who were to speak Monday afternoon before the Brussels Assize Court, gave up speaking. Instead, President Laurence Massart read at the hearing a letter addressed to the court by the wife of an American national, then a report to supplement the testimony of the mother of a thirty-something German national.

Monday’s day began with the testimony of four medical specialists. They exposed the physical and psychological damage suffered by the victims of the attacks.

Serge Jennes, anesthetist-resuscitator, specialist in severe burns, described in particular the extreme pain felt by the victims of the attacks, burned to varying degrees, and who also suffered from lesions due to polyscreening, resulting from the projection of all kinds shrapnel at the site of an explosion. “We had never seen that in Belgium… It’s more like the kind of war scenes that our military doctors observe in Afghanistan,” he testified.

Thierry Lejeune, a doctor specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation, spoke about the long rehabilitation process through which survivors pass the time to find the place that suits them best in society.

The ENT expert in bodily injury, Gérald Van Geert, then addressed hearing disorders or damage, following explosions (blast effect, the “blast”), which are very disabling and often permanent.

Finally, the expert psychiatrist Nadia Kadi Van Acker looked at the case of people suffering from psychic sequelae, and in particular from post-traumatic disorders, which are manifested by a whole series of symptoms (memory disorders, concentration, dissociation problem, fluctuating mood, depression, difficult to manage anxiety…). She detailed the various tools available to help these “invisible victims” to have “a sweeter life” and to “relearn how to live in everyday life”.

The path to some form of healing can take years or even a lifetime, practitioners have pointed out.

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