“I had a very difficult period, not only for myself but for my family. It was actually my wife that reached out to Help for Heroes for support and I’m just so glad she did. That’s essentially how I got linked back to Mark, through Help for Heroes. My life has changed over the last three years.”
Veterans Mark Bowra and Stuart Hitchman served together until Mark suffered a stroke in 2014.
Now, Stuart is supporting Mark with the setting up of his own charity, the BOWRA Foundation, inspiring people with neurological disorders through practical help and support.
Former Lt Colonel Mark was always destined to join the Armed Forces. First going to Biggin Hill, he passed selection to become a fighter pilot, but it was only whilst he was at university in Birmingham that he got friendly with a couple of Royal Marine officers who were on their scholarships, and it was at that point there he decided that he was going to make a switch and join the Royal Marines. He attended the potential officers’ course and the rest is history.
Stuart and Mark followed similar career paths in the Marines, both serving as mountain leaders before further specialising. It was at this point that their paths crossed and they served together on operations.
Former Captain Stuart had his own challenges while serving. After 27 years’ service, it became clear that he was struggling with his mental health.
Stuart said: “This had been an ongoing struggle, for probably somewhere around 10 years. I reported sick, and from then I was medically discharged for depression.”
After an extensive transition phase of around 15 months, Stuart left the Royal Marines in 2015 hoping to become a teacher. However, depression hit and he had to retire from the Troops to Teachers training scheme he had been enrolled on.
Thankfully, Stuart’s wife got in touch with Help for Heroes, and he began accessing mental health support. At the same time, he was offered a great opportunity.
“I’d started work with Mark through Help for Heroes. The charity’s Head of Welfare and Clinical Services had phoned to ask if I’d be interested in supporting Mark, and because of our relationship, it was a really easy decision for me.”
Mark’s journey to a medical discharge
Driving home from a paddleboard race in Marlow, Mark was commuting home when he started to feel unwell. Luckily, he was able to pull into a service station where he collapsed onto his steering wheel and was rescued by a member of the public.
Mark was rushed to the hospital, where he had half his skull removed to relieve pressure on his brain, and it was from there that he began his long recovery journey.
He spent 12 months in Headley Court and then a further year in Hasler company before being medically discharged. It was during a transition workshop run by Help for Heroes that he had the idea to set up the BOWRA Foundation. He also took part in the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto, Canada.
Stuart said: “Mark has had massive support from Help for Heroes throughout his recovery journey. In particular, Mark has a carer, who’s employed three days a week, that is funded by Help for Heroes. In addition, Mark has had an adaptive canoe bought for him by Help for Heroes and two trikes bought for him as well. One was for training for Invictus and the other has been used specifically for his training for his BOWRA 1000 event – his fundraising challenge for the BOWRA Foundation.
“He is a truly inspirational man. It was a really simple decision for me to jump in and help. And he helped me when I first transitioned too.
“If I could speak collectively for both of us, the support from Help for Heroes is actually life-changing. For me, it’s enabled me to understand and work with depression and for Mark, it’s absolutely been the trigger for this truly amazing recovery from a very serious stroke.”