It was wonderful to hear that Mick Brennan had won a place in the Winter Paralympics, the only former soldier to do so. He has overcome so many hurdles and all of us at H4H are so proud to see him nominated. Along with the nation, all of us at the Charity will be shouting ourselves hoarse cheering him on.
To secure a place in the Great British team is extraordinary and we must remember that while the Paralympics can be the inspiration for many, they are the pinnacle of recovery reached by few. Mick has taken ten years to fight back from that day when a suicide bomber changed his life and every day of that decade has been a challenge. Once the games are over the challenges will continue, there is no fairy tale ending but there is hope and the inspiration to keep him and others like him looking forward.
It has been very encouraging recently to talk to the recipients of the new prosthetic legs, the Geniums and X3s, that are giving a level of mobility way and above what was available even five years ago.
One of the very few positive things that come out of war are the medical advances: The first aid skills on the battlefield, in the Medical Emergency Reaction Team helicopters (MERTs), the field hospital at Camp Bastion, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham are all superb. They are supported by the extraordinary teams at Headley Court and at other NHS hospitals that perform the follow up surgery. Recovery takes years and dozens of operations; it needs our support throughout, both while the injured are serving and for years to come.
“For the veterans of contemporary conflicts these are early days,” says Dr Chris Parker CBE, Managing Director of the West Midlands Academic Health Science Network. “The most advanced of the nations involved continue to push the boundaries of originality and invention, which will generate ever-improving results, but it is the improvements developed in recent conflicts that have resulted in so many men and women not only surviving injuries that would have killed them in previous wars but also leading their lives to the full and inspiring those of us who look on with both awe and respect. Many will need medical attention throughout their lives. Some, including those with the invisible scars of conflict, may not need it until later and many will continue to be helped by military charities like Help for Heroes, tremendous organisations that are a visible manifestation of the respect and gratitude of an appreciative Nation.”
Those who have lost limbs are some of the most visible of our wounded, often wearing shorts which, as well as easier to get on, show the extent of the injury. However, we must not think that the amputees make up most of the war injuries; they don’t. I was talking to Steve last week, he mentioned that when he meets people and they hear that he was wounded, they do a double take, instinctively looking at his legs. Ridiculously, he feels he has to explain that he has still got all of his limbs because he was injured by an IED that hit him sideways, ripping into the side of his body and causing massive injury to his torso. His wounds are hidden and so too are those who have mental injuries - those injuries are just as debilitating as those involving amputation and they too will take years, perhaps a lifetime, to treat.
So, over the next few weeks let’s cheer on Mick (as well as eight further athletes taking part in the Paralympic Inspiration Programme) and thank all those involved in the life saving advances that have come out of these brutal wars but let’s not relax and think that the job is done. The more I talk to those who have suffered life changing inures in the line of duty, the more I am humbled and understand what they and their families are enduring. They need our long term support - we must be there for them for the rest of their lives.
Onwards and Upwards!