Bruce, who grew up in Zimbabwe before joining the British Army in 2000, lost both legs below the knee following injury. Yet his extraordinary ordeal has given him, in his own words, a “new lease of life” – as he explains.
“I was 22 when I joined the Army. Like any job, there are highs and lows. You’re adapting to new environments which can take their toll physically and mentally, and it’s hard being away from family and friends.
“But there are times when you’re with your brothers in arms, training or in the thick of an operation, and there’s no other place you would rather be.
“When the pain in my feet first started it felt like I was walking on hot sand, only a thousand times worse. It quickly reached the stage where I couldn’t wear boots, but it was still a shock to learn I’d developed plantar fasciitis and had torn tendons and nerve damage.
“I had surgery and that was the end of my going out on tour. Afterwards I was in a really bad place. I felt useless and like I’d let my mates down. I was on sick leave for two years and turned to painkillers and alcohol. I put on weight and became depressed - I felt like I was ‘baggage’.
“But there was more to come. The pain worsened and, to cut a long story short, I ended up making the decision to have both legs amputated below the knee.
“In a way accepting my military career was over was a relief, and having the amputations actually gave me a new lease of life. Yes, losing both lower legs rendered me disabled, but with the use of prosthetics I could finally walk again, pain free. There were daily tasks that took getting used to – rolling over in bed without your lower legs was one of them! But with Help for Heroes’ support, I found the motivation to keep pushing forward and adapt. They introduced me to sport, which has made a huge difference to my life as it’s given me focus and allowed me to feel part of a team again.
“Knowing I used to love being active before I was injured, they suggested I try out wheelchair rugby. Help for Heroes teamed up with Blesma, a partner charity that supports veterans who have lost limbs, and gave me a specially adapted wheelchair so that I could play. Now I’m a member of the Ospreys Wheelchair Rugby team which is great not just for my physical health but my mental health too. I even went on to take part in rugby trials for the 2020 Invictus Games.
“Then when the lift I need to get from my garden to my front door broke, Help for Heroes stepped in again. Without it I struggled to leave the house, which really took away my independence. Alongside Blesma they organised a new one for me, which has made a big difference to my life day-to-day.
“Thanks to all the support I’ve had, my outlook on life today is more positive than ever before. I’m fitter and healthier than ever and I have a real can-do attitude. Recently I adapted a mountain bike, so that my prosthetic feet stick to the pedals with magnets. Riding a bike might seem like a simple thing to most people, but for me being able to do so meant achieving one of my biggest wishes.
“The frame of mind I am in now is such a long way away from the destructive one I was once in. Help for Heroes, and all its amazing supporters, have helped make all of this possible for me.”
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