Lisa’s husband Gary, a respected Army Captain with the Royal Logistics Corps, suffered near-fatal injuries when his vehicle veered off course during a high-intensity training exercise in 2006. The car flipped over, ripping apart Gary’s left arm, severing an artery and leaving bones protruding through his skin.
“When I got a call to tell me Gary had been in an accident there wasn’t much detail and my initial thought was ‘how stupid, what has he gone and done now?’” said Lisa. “But when I arrived at the hospital they said he had been in surgery for several hours and was being moved to the High Dependency Unit. They warned me his injuries were severe and that he had been through a very traumatic experience. Due to the remote location of the accident spot, it had taken a long time for an ambulance to reach him and he had been severely traumatised.
“When I saw him I barely recognised him. My big, strong Gary looked no bigger than a child. He seemed so small, so helpless. I looked at him and I cried. I didn’t know what else to do, I knew things had changed forever."
Over the coming years, Gary faced an extraordinary struggle to rehabilitate himself physically, but it was the emotional wounds that really began to take their toll. Gary developed PTSD as a result of the trauma of the accident and suffered debilitating anxiety attacks and mood swings.
Lisa wants to talk about the couple’s darkest hours. Gary’s anger was often directed at her. She felt worthless, guilty and desperately lonely. “I took all the blame. Blame for his feelings, for what was happening to him now. I wanted so desperately to help him but just didn’t know how.”
The couple married and Lisa fell pregnant with their first child, Emma, but at the scan, Gary’s anger left them warring in the corridor. “What should have been one of the happiest occasions in our marriage so far became a memory I was desperate to forget”.
Gary was discharged from the Army and he and Lisa began to make plans for their future, but Gary’s physical injuries limited his ability to work and his PTSD worsened.
“Then my father was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour. I’m an only child and we were incredibly close. He had helped me through everything that had happened and I was devastated at the thought of losing him. His illness was very aggressive and just a few months later, the day before my second child was due, my father died. I was booked in to be induced 10 days later but had to face the horror of planning a birth and a funeral at the same time. I had to work things out and try to time them so that I could have the child and still be able to get to my own Dad’s funeral.”
Throughout these years, anxiety had been building, but Lisa was too focused on looking after Gary and her young family to recognise her worsening symptoms. “When we went out I would have to pack a change bag for the baby and go through another checklist to make sure Gary would be okay. I was under immense pressure, but I don’t think I recognised the strain or effect it was having on me at the time.
As Gary had been discharged in 2009 the couple were no longer entitled to any kind of support from the Army. They struggled to deal with Gary’s PTSD, the death of Lisa’s father, and they neared breaking point. Lisa admits: “I was the lowest I had ever been, and struggled to control my panic attacks and anxiety. I really felt I had nowhere to turn. And I wouldn’t have known who to ask for help even if I had tried.”
But then she heard about Help For Heroes. “I thought it was only for veterans injured abroad for some reason, but I looked into it and realised we were eligible for help too. Gary was against me getting in touch at first, but I was at breaking point and I knew I needed help. I needed someone to help me help Gary while I was dealing with trying to keep everything together.”
Lisa joined Band of Sisters, a community of veterans and veterans’ wives who support each other through online groups and respite weekends. She also accessed Hidden Wounds – enabling her and Gary to gain access to counsellors, mental health professionals, and advisers who specialise in dealing with ex-service personnel and their families who are battling mental health issues.
Gary is still under the care of three consultants at the QE Hospital in Birmingham and has just completed a course of EMDR treatment for PTSD, but he is now able to work although restricted by his injuries and he and Lisa have set up a business together.
Lisa says: “My husband was injured 11 years ago, but the effects are still evident in our lives now. The emotional and physical scars may never truly heal, but thanks to Help For Heroes we are looking positively towards the future. Our daughters Emma, 9, and Sophie, 6, are our pride and joy. We are very open with them about what has happened and we always talk about how we are feeling. I think it’s the fact that Gary and I communicate so well, and that we are open with our daughters, that has kept us together through everything that has happened.
“We went on a holiday of a lifetime to Florida in the summer. We were both apprehensive beforehand, and took along my Mum and Gary’s parents for support too. But we needn’t have worried, we all had an amazing time. Gary told me it felt like he had turned a corner – feeling so happy and seeing the girls so happy too. I felt exactly the same and hope the future holds more happiness for us than the past has. We deserve a bit of good luck!”
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