When West Yorkshire soldier Michael Ellis suffered from a bout of Gastroenteritis, little did he realise it would lead to the end of his Army career.
But just over a year later, towards the end of 2015, the 34-year-old was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare neurological condition affecting the peripheral nervous system, which can develop after having a bacterial or viral infection.
Now medically discharged from the Army, Michael, who was born in Pontefract but now lives in Ackworth, has praised the charity Help for Heroes for its support in helping him to begin focusing on his future. He is hoping to train as a nursery teacher and start a course in September.
“Help for Heroes is just fantastic,” he said. “A lot of people do not know the depth of help they give you. Originally I just thought it was a place for people who had lost limbs but they support a whole range of people with conditions that are not visible.
“With my condition, it’s not something people can obviously see. I thought everyone would judge me. In the Army, people look down at you for being sick but Help for Heroes made me feel comfortable and that I could open up about how I felt.”
Michael joined the Army in 2011, attached to 3 Medical Regiment as a driver and communications specialist and enjoyed his job, taking part in a wide variety of exercises, including with the Special Forces.
“Before this all happened, I had just picked up my Lance Corporal promotion and I had put a lot into my career and represented my regiment at a variety of sports.”
But he became ill towards the end of 2014, although it took a year to be diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome.
“I feel I never really had a chance to pursue my career. It was a huge shock. The main thing is tiredness, the effect on my bladder and bowels and I get frequent headaches. I am on medication for it but I get frequent relapses,” he said.
Michael is now on a waiting list to be fitted with a sacral nerve stimulator, a small device surgically implanted to stimulate the sacral nerve, which controls the bladder, with mild electrical pulses.
Through his regiment, Michael was put in touch with Help for Heroes northern Recovery Centre, Phoenix House, in Catterick, North Yorkshire, where he re-kindled a love of golf.
“Through Phoenix House, I was invited to take part in a golf tournament at another Help for Heroes Recovery Centre in Colchester. Golf gives me something else to think about and something positive to look forward to.
“I had played golf for my regiment and it’s great to have something that I can continue with. Everything had been taken away and it took a lot to get to grips with. I’m very thankful to Phoenix House for getting me back into golf.”
Michael has also taken advantage of the wide variety of courses on offer at Phoenix House. He recently completed his Health and Safety Level 3 qualification and will soon undertake his First Aid at Work course. He is actively looking for work.
“Eventually I would like to go into childcare and I hope to start a course in September,” he said. “I have had so much pleasure watching my two-year-old daughter, Hope, grow and develop and I love watching how she plays. I have had some work experience at a local nursery and I really enjoyed it. I want a job I find rewarding.”
Mhael and his partner, Rachael Spink, who are currently planning their wedding, are also members of the Help for Heroes Band of Brothers network, which provides life-long support to those with a career limiting/ending injury or illness attributable to service, and Band of Sisters, which is open to loved ones, both male and female, who care for those who have sustained career limiting/ending injuries or illness during or attributable to service.
“The help and support for families is fantastic,” he said. “We took my daughter to a Halloween party and Christmas party at Phoenix House and she had a great time. We got to meet other people and also to watch our daughter mix with other youngsters in a similar situation to her.
“I would strongly urge other veterans to get in touch with Help for Heroes. The support they provide is fantastic and the staff really listen to you and what you need.”
Mo Usman, Head of Recovery North and based at Phoenix House, said: “Help for Heroes is proud to be supporting Michael as he rebuilds his life beyond injury.
“We understand that no recovery journey follows the same path which is why it so important that a holistic, individual approach to support is available.
“We are excited to follow Michael’s progress and are committed to supporting him, and all those who have been injured (physically or mentally) in the line of duty. We are here to provide support to our beneficiaries in order that they can eventually have active, independent and fulfilling lives.”
Anyone who served in the Army, Royal Navy, Royal Marines or Royal Air Force who needs the support of Help for Heroes Phoenix House Recovery Centre in Catterick can self-refer by calling 01748 834148.