Lives changed by the Manchester Arena attack: A story of survival five years on

Lucy Jarvis and Millie Tomlinson

Friends Millie Tomlinson and Lucy Jarvis had gone to watch Ariana Grande perform when they were both injured in the Manchester Arena terror attack on 22 May 2017.

Lucy needed 50 hours of surgery and was placed in an induced coma.

Now, five years on from the atrocity, they are closer than ever and have shared their story from the night of the bombing through to where they are now.

This is their story, in their words.

Millie Tomlinson.


Before the attack I was at college studying and doing well I got distinction** in my first year.

I was popular and had many friends and independence. I would socialise with friends a lot and enjoyed going out. I didn’t have any concerns or worries and didn’t really get anxious.

After the attack, I was in the hospital for two days and went home having agreed to a district nurse to come change my bandages daily. I couldn’t do anything with my left hand I couldn’t even pick up a knife and fork.

I had to go to physio to gain strength back in it which took months. I was also on crutches after the attack for two weeks as I had injuries to my legs. At this point, I tried to refuse to do counselling as I felt extremely guilty for having not been more injured and felt I couldn’t complain.

Even though I was really hurting and struggling. My relationship with my family became strained and I was constantly angry at myself.

Replaying in my mind what I had seen wishing I could have done more, feeling I failed Lucy and it should have been me in her place, letting my family and other survivors down.

I had to drop out of college the following September as the workload mixed with the hospital, counselling and physio appointments was just too much. I was seeing counsellors weekly and this is when my family and friends noticed I was severely depressed.

In 2018 my mental health reached an all-time low, and I had become very reserved and distant from friends and family. Blaming myself and having survivors guilt took its toll on me. I felt very alone and guilty about the attack. I felt there was no way I would ever feel like me again. I didn’t want to be here anymore.

After this attempt, I realised I needed to have a more positive outlook. I tried to becomepositive and tried to fill my time doing things I loved and tried to distract myself. I joined thechoir previously, but it was a major help when I was very depressed. I met a lot of peopleand going there helped to remind me of positive things in life. I enjoyed singing meetingnew people and just having the support of people who had gone through the same thing.

During this time, I’ve had CBT and EMDR therapy which has helped a lot, but it is still an ongoing battle. I started to volunteer at brownie girl guides. I got asked to do work experience at ITV Granada Reports. It gave me a purpose again and made me realise it is what I want to do with my life. I enjoyed every aspect of the work.

Moving on I applied to university with the experience I had gained, and I am absolutelyloving it. It was the best decision I made. I have made amazing bonds with friends and hadamazing experiences so far.

I feel my self-confidence has really been boosted and I have become a more positive person. I am still reminded of the attack in daily things, emotions I experienced and physical effects will never really leave me. Especially around the anniversary, my emotions bubble to the surface once again.

I often feel a sense of worry and anxiety when in large crowds or in restricted spaces such as trains. The fear still lingers around medical procedures as I associate it with the night of the attack, and I panic at any injuries to myself such as unexpected bodily harm. This still throws me into the swirl of panic I felt on that night.

Although I am now going into my final year at uni and I have been released I will never be the same person I was before the attack. My mental health still suffers but I have realised by being open to my family, friends and girlfriend that it is better to talk about things thanbottling them up.

I am now a new me who has come through this more resilient and looking forward to pursuing my dream for the future. By having my experience so far in life and going through what I have gone through. I have been able to find my career path. I would like to make documentaries shedding light on issues and topics bringing voices to people who may not have had a chance to speak up or tell their stories.

Lucy Jarvis survived the Manchester arena attack.


Before the attack, I was at college doing my A levels dreaming of going to university with my friends. I had a lovely, fun life and so much to look forward to.

Everything changed after the attack.

I spent eight weeks in Salford Royal Hospital of which four weeks were on an ICU ward and the remaining four weeks on a high dependency trauma ward. I spent around 10 days in an induced coma and for the rest of my time in hospital my injuries were so severe that I could not move much, walk or do anything really.

Most of my early memories of that time are quite foggy and mixed up. I had more than 50 hours of surgery and I was in a lot of discomfort.

Trauma treatment is painful and invasive. The drugs are powerful, and I suffered several nasty side effects such as sickness and disorientation. Having more than 30 shrapnel wounds dressed daily really isn’t much fun I can tell you. It was a tough time, but my parents were so loving and supportive, and this helped me to get through it all. They even lived at the hospital for almost the whole eight-week period without ever going home once.

When I eventually got to go home my dad had to leave his job to become my full-time carer and, about a year later, my Mum had to leave her job due to PTSD. My whole family had become victims of this terrible event. I can’t thank my family enough for all the love and support they gave me. I’m also still in contact with some of the nurses who looked after me, and some of the Arena staff who helped to save my life. They are so special and without them I probably wouldn’t be here.

All the independence that I took for granted like any other teenager was lost. I couldn’t do anything on my own and I relied on medical professionals and my parents for everything. It was so difficult to make the adjustment and for a while, when I eventually got to go home, I did not want to go out or do anything. I excluded myself a lot because being in a wheelchair felt like I would be a burden to my friends.

Lucy and Millie

When the bombing happened, I was attending my first year of A Level studies. I was a good student academically and was really enjoying college. Despite being told by the hospital that I was too badly injured, I desperately wanted to get back to college as soon as possible and I forced my parents and the college to allow me to return to my studies in the October.

The college tried to support me in my wheelchair, and I had a member of staff with me for the two afternoons a week I attended, but it was just too exhausting and physically painful to continue for more than a few weeks.

Later, after having around eight months of intense physiotherapy, I learned to walk again without the support of crutches. I still had many wounds and had a metal cage screwed to my lower left leg, but having some limited mobility felt amazing as I finally felt like some normality was returning to my life.

However, due to the extent of my injuries, life is still a struggle as I do not have the same mobility as I did before and never will have. Even now, five years on, I am still having physiotherapy and may have to have further surgery on my left foot to reduce pain. As well as this I need to have several lots of plastic surgery and some scar revision treatment to reduce and help disguise the many scars that are still visible.

I never in my dreams realised how long the recovery period for serious trauma wounds would be. I thought after the first round of physio I would be done and be completely better, but I was very, very wrong. The medical professionals try to warn you of the recovery journey you have ahead of you but it’s hard to take on board and unfortunately my journey is continuing. But I have learned to accept it. I'm not angry or frustrated anymore.

I know that I will always be the girl who has to frequently sit down to rest and avoid too much pain when I’m out with my friends. It is just a part of my life now and I'm getting used to it.

I joined the Manchester Survivors Choir in 2018 to find support and be around others who had been through what I had been through. The choir was such a huge relief for me. I could talk to anyone about what happened, and they would listen and understand and just be there for me which is exactly what I needed. I felt a sense of belonging there and I did not have to try to fit in. Everyone was so kind and lovely. The choir is truly a family and I have made some of my closest friends through it.

Lucy Jarvis and nurses after the arena attack.

Luckily over the years, I have generally kept incredibly positive. The trauma hasn’t resulted in serious PTSD or depression although I still have my low periods. In the first lockdown, I struggled a lot mentally and started to become very angry and hateful, which isn't like me at all!

It made me feel the same way as when I was still badly injured; trapped, isolated and frustrated. My parents took me to the doctor, and I received a lot of help including treatments such as CBT therapy. This helped me a lot and allowed me to pull away from negative feelings.

After leaving college, I never thought I would have the chance to go back into education and I really thought it was over for me. However, when I was feeling better and ready to continue my life, with the help of my parents I started exploring universities that would allow entry based on work experience instead of A Level grades. Fortunately, during my recovery period I was asked to take part in a couple of documentaries about the bombing.

Much later, this led onto Granada being kind enough to let me have several weeks work experience with them where I learned so much. After this I knew that I wanted to work in the media. So, I managed to get into to Salford University in 2020 studying TV and Radio Production. This has given me the drive to get where I want to in life regardless of my personal struggles.

Anything is possible if you put the work in.

Going to university has really helped me to regain the confidence that I had lost for so long. I have really come out of my shell, and I now feel that I can be the same as other people my age. I have made an amazing group of friends who are so supportive of me and understanding of everything that happened. It is the best thing I have ever done.

I am currently coming to the end of my second year, about to go into my third and final year and then it's into the big wide world on my own.

It's scary but I think everything that I have been through has made me a stronger and more resilient person and I genuinely believe I can get to where I want to be.