Former Marine launches revolutionary wheelchair

Help for Heroes beneficiary and a former Royal Marine turned Paralympian this week launched his revolutionary wheelchair that brings disabled people back to a “social height”.

Philip Eaglesham from Dungannon who was at this year’s Rio Paralympic Games, with support from Help for Heroes, invented the elevating wheelchair after his frustration at his loss of independence.

Phils Wheelchair 1

Five years ago, Phil contracted Q Fever whilst on tour with the Royal Marines in Afghanistan. Although the infection has been treated, his condition continues to deteriorate.

On return from Afghanistan he customised a Segway by putting a seat on it in order to be at the same height as his wife and friends – but soon found he didn’t have the core strength to hold himself up. That led him to design Victor, the elevating wheelchair that lets users raise themselves up to eye level. “In October 2010, Helmand province, Afghanistan my life changed forever,” explained Mr Eaglesham.

Phils Wheelchair 2

“Just over a year ago I tried to take my own life.  I’d just had enough of the deterioration and the impact it was having on my wife, the kids, others around me.  It’s difficult to talk about it, but it’s good to talk about it.”

However, when he began working on the elevated wheelchair he found a new purpose. He said: “I was given an opportunity not only to change my life path but also the lives of possibly millions of disabled people the world over.

“With the support I’ve had, it became vital to find like-minded people who had the foresight of giving disabled people the ability to live in an able-bodied environment, rather than constantly trying to adapt or structurally change everything. “To take a disabled person back to a social height, to aid social interaction but also increase independence has been key.”

The all-terrain chair has been designed by the Medical AMRC team at The University of Sheffield and is also designed to mount kerbs and small steps and can turn on the spot.

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Mark's Story

Veteran Mark Taylor, from London, saw tours of Kosovo, Northern Ireland and Iraq. In 2005, after a decade of active duty which culminated in a tour of Iraq that saw two men in his Battalion die, Mark attempted to commit suicide.

Mark says, “For me, the straw that broke the camel’s back was my final tour in Iraq in 2004. We were the most attacked company of the British Army since the Korean War in 1950. During a single tour, our base experienced 595 mortars, 27 rocket propelled grenades, 17 Chinese rockets and over 2000 individual small arms contacts. Our company lost two men.”

Mark Taylor2

Mark believes he came back from Iraq a completely different person to the one that went out there. He felt he couldn’t be the solider, father, son and husband he needed to be which led him to attempt suicide in 2005. It was following that attempt that he was first diagnosed with severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Despite this he remained in the army for the next nine years, bottling up his feelings and not seeking help for his PTSD. Eventually his wife could no longer cope and filed for divorce. It was at this time that a concerned friend took him to the Help for Heroes Recovery Centre, Tedworth House in Wiltshire.

Mark says; “I knew about Help for Heroes before but I didn’t know quite how fantastic their Recovery Centres were. Since then I have spent a lot of time living between Tedworth House and the Help for Heroes Recovery Centre in Colchester. PTSD affects the whole family, and my time spent at the Recovery Centres has enabled me to forge the closest relationship I’ve ever had with my two girls, who are 12 and 14, my partner, Yvonne and my family.”

Mark believes that Help for Heroes also helped him to gain a new appreciation for the part that sport can play in psychological welfare. “Before I got involved with Help for Heroes I had no desire to meet anyone new and my previously competitive nature had completely gone. But through the Sports Recovery programme the Charity encouraged me to get involved in sports again and I even became a golf champion! It’s been a great form of therapy as it gives me time to escape my past experiences and helps me to be social again.”

Mark was discharged from the army in 2013 and is now working towards a new career path with the support of Help for Heroes Career Recovery. He recently started his own business, ‘Hero Handyman’, offering DIY services to those who need them.

“For the first time in ten years, Help for Heroes helped me hold my hand up and say ‘I need help’. I’ve the closest relationship with my family that I’ve ever had because the Charity has helped me deal with my PTSD and become a better person from it. That is what drives me to raise awareness and give something back to a fantastic Charity that I believe saved my life.”

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JJ's Story

Military Paralympian John James ‘JJ’ Chalmers was serving with the Royal Marines in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in 2011 when he suffered life-changing injuries from an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blast. He lost two fingers, suffered facial and leg injuries and his right elbow was badly damaged.

Having undergone facial reconstruction and surgery on his left eye and both legs, JJ spent time at the Help for Heroes Recovery Centre, Tedworth House, and went on to compete at the 2012 Invictus Games. There he won medals in cycling and on the track. He says, “Being part of a team and representing my country was something I thought I’d lost forever. It was the greatest week of my life.”

After getting a glimpse into the world of media and broadcasting at the Invictus Games and watching the Paralympics at London 2012, JJ decided to pursue a career in presenting. 

“The athletes I’ve had the opportunity to interview over the years, whether it be established Paralympic athletes who took part in 2012 or the lads coming through from Help for Heroes, are unbelievable. Watching the London 2012 Paralympics made me proud to be disabled. My recovery has shown me the world is full of truly awesome people. It’s my dream and ambition to have the opportunity to tell their stories.”

JJ Chalmers Rio 2016

© Roger Keller | Help for Heroes

JJ has gone on to present National Paralympic Day for Channel 4 as well as an online show for the IPC Athletics World Championships in Doha. Now, four years on from being inspired by the Invictus and Paralympics Games, will be presenting again for Channel 4 – this time on their coverage of this year’s Paralympics in Rio.

“Being a Royal Marine Commando was the greatest job in the world. My next career needed to be something I love doing and would make me want to get out of bed in the morning. It’s got to be something that makes me want to give everything I’ve got and presenting is that.” 

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Chris' story

Chris Jones served with the Army Air Corps in 1993 and was discharged in 1998 after a series of injuries led to him developing misaligned knees and hips, as well as problems with his back. Left with mobility issues and later diagnosed with fibromyalgia, he experienced feelings of inadequacy, failure, rage and guilt.

Chris became angry and withdrawn and struggled to cope with his physical and mental injuries on his own. He first heard about H4H through the media, and the Charity started supporting him in 2015.

Chris Jones 3

With Help for Heroes, sport is playing a huge role in Chris’ recovery. He has competed at the 2016 Invictus Games in cycling and rowing, completed the Charity’s Big Battlefield Bike Ride challenge, taken up surfing again and joined the Armed Forces Para-Snowsport’s foundation team.

Chris says: “Help for Heroes has changed my life and that of my family. Representing the British Armed Forces at Invictus 2016 helped me to re-engage positively with the military community, breaking down the years of negative associations I had made. I have received grant funding for a hand-cycle and to adapt my house, giving me a safe and relaxing place to live. My wife and I have also both had psychological support.

“The Charity has stopped me being isolated and helped me to become more comfortable around other people.”

Chris Jones 2

Chris says he wanted to become a Help for Heroes Ambassador for two main reasons: “Firstly, I wanted to use the Ambassador programme to help me to engage more with people. Secondly, if my story helps members of the public and corporate groups to understand a little of what we go through and why we need their support, then I feel that I can give something back to the Charity that has made such a significant difference to my life.”

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Tommy's story

For Tommy Lowther, the idea of one day launching his own business for injured veterans was a dream far out of his reach. For more than 15 years he battled PTSD demons which brought him to the brink of suicide. Yet those closest to him now describe him as “an inspiring character with a massive heart”. So it is hard to fathom, why, for so long, he felt worthless and thought his destiny was to end up in a wooden box six feet under the ground.

To understand why Tommy, an Army veteran, felt so desperate as to seriously consider suicide, one only needs to hear an account of his time serving in Northern Ireland when he was just 18 years old. Having grown up in a small town in County Durham, he described how he felt like “a boy in a man’s world”.

“It was very scary,” said Tommy, who served with the Fifth Battalion Light Infantry. “I was really anxious at first, I didn’t know what to expect. When I got there, I certainly had my eyes opened.”

Tommy described how every day he would be running on adrenalin and lived in relentless fear for his life and what could happen. He faced a constant stream of petrol bombs, bottles and bricks being thrown and burning tyres being rolled towards him.

One moment still lives with him vividly; the day he was set on fire.

Tommy Lowtherresized

“I was leaning against a crowd control obstacle with my armadillo shield and a petrol bomb came towards me and I was dowsed. I was terrified. I remember opening my eyes and seeing flames lick up underneath my visor. I got pulled into the crowd, stamped on, kicked and punched. It was frightening, it felt like an eternity.

“At 18 years old it puts a lot of things in perspective.  The hostility, that alone is frightening, without all the obstacles as well.”

Little did Tommy realise, his worst experience was still to come.  After Northern Ireland, he was sent on an exercise in Gibraltar. Here, he suffered an event which had a devastating lasting effect; he was sexually assaulted.

“When it first happened, I was really, really embarrassed about it. I was disgusted in myself and didn’t want to tell anyone. That is when the PTSD wheels started moving.”

Tommy quickly went from being an outgoing, bubbly character to somebody who became aggressive, moody, suffered flashbacks and contemplated suicide.

“I just went into a shell,” he explained. “I knew what I was doing, saying and how I was acting was wrong but couldn’t do anything about it.”

Things became so bleak that Tommy felt suicide was his only option. 

“PTSD is a way of life and it’s a dark, dark place. A scary one as well. You genuinely feel like the world would be a better place without you. I couldn’t see how I was going to get past it. I thought I’d do the world a favour.”

With his PTSD all consuming and his mind trapped in his past horrors, Tommy lost his first job after leaving the military. However, they persuaded him to get in touch with Help for Heroes which is when things started to change.

He visited Phoenix House Recovery Centre in Catterick and was put in contact with a Support Hub Keyworker. Talking to her, he broke down in tears which he said was a “relief”. The real turning point is when she explained about The Pathfinder Experience.

“Pathfinder literally saved my life,” he said. “If it wasn’t for Pathfinder, without a shadow of a doubt I would have taken my own life.

National Mentoring Day Tommy And Martin 1

“It didn’t pull me out of the hole. It gave me the tools to pull myself out of the hole.

“It flipped from PTSD having a hold of me to me having a hold of PTSD. I wasn’t going to let it control me anymore.”

Tommy, like all Pathfinders, was matched with a civilian mentor, Martin Dewhurst, who he can confide in and turn to for advice. Martin explained: “Tommy is an inspiring character with a massive heart. Knowing I have made a difference in his life is massive for me. We are on this path together and I am very proud to be walking alongside him.”

It was because of Pathfinder that Tommy’s own business, Sporting Force, was born. Working in partnership with professional sport clubs, it offers work placements to the wounded, injured and sick serving and ex-serving men and women of the armed forces. This could be in hospitality, marketing, ticketing, coaching, physio and more. Sporting Force already has links with Premiership Clubs including Liverpool and Everton, as well as other Championship and league One clubs such as MK Dons, QPR, Reading and Leeds.

Tommy said: “If it hadn’t been for Help for Heroes and Pathfinder, Sporting Force would never have taken off. It has changed me for the better and brought me much closer to the man I used to be.

“I never thought I’d be where I am now. I thought my destiny was a wooden box six feet under. Now, for the first time in a long time, I’m proud of myself.”

Click here to find out how Help for Heroes can support you

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