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Two veterans whose lives were turned upside down by strokes have become the best of friends, having met through Help for Heroes.

Former Army Sergeant Major Mick and ex-Royal Navy Warrant Officer Pete are spurring each other on through their recovery.

They've had many similar experiences – both good and bad. And they're now there for one another in one of the toughest times of their lives. 

Their crucial support crew, their loving wives Jules and Anne, have also become great friends and together they're a tight-knit, unbeatable team.

When the veterans suffered life-changing strokes they got in touch with us. This was after they'd heard that the Charity now provides healthcare support to people with military experience no matter where, when or how they suffered an illness or injury.

In an instant, both men's world had come crashing down. They'd lost the use of their right arms. Their hearing and speech were affected. The upset and anxiety it caused them all has at times been overwhelming.

Due to the huge pressures on our NHS, they were given a short number of physiotherapy sessions.

The support we've provided Mick and Pete has proven crucial. So too has some friendly inter-Forces rivalry between the two men.

Four people stood together.
L-r: Anne, Pete, Mick and Jules are a formidable team, helping each other through the challenges caused by the men's strokes. - Picture credit: Help for Heroes

Pete's wife Anne said: "Pete has a healthy competition with Mick. He has just walked without a stick. Mick did this last week and it spurred Pete on. He thought 'I'm not letting an Army veteran beat me'.

"I dread to think where we would be without the support we've had from Help for Heroes.

"When the guys are doing their physio, Jules and I have formed a friendship. It's good to know I am not alone. 

"We have exchanged phone numbers. We text each other good and bad news. We support each other and can have a little moan if we need to. It's good to have someone who truly understands.

"Doing this on our own without Mick and Jules would have been dreadful."

I dread to think where we would be without the support we've had from Help for Heroes.


Pete's wife

Pete in his military uniform, with his wife Anne
Pete and Anne at the Queen's Jubilee party at Windsor Castle. - Picture credit: Anne and Pete Duncan

Pete was in the Royal Navy for 41 years. He served in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. He has since been diagnosed with PTSD.

Anne said: "This was clearly from his years in the military. I think he had been keeping a lid on it and when he had the stroke, the lid flew off.

"For his first five intensive physiotherapy sessions funded by Help for Heroes, I took Pete in a wheelchair. Since then, Pete has gone from a quad stick, to a walking stick, to a walking pole. And now he doesn't use a stick at all.

"We are eternally grateful for Help for Heroes for all the support they've given us."

A black and white picture of a young man in Navy uniform
Pete on board HMS Illustrious with the Royal Navy. - Picture credit: Anne and Pete Duncan

Mick completed six tours of Northern Ireland during his 17 years in the Army. He also served for 15 years in the Territorial Army.

Mick's wife Jules said: "His stroke was devastating. Mick was at the gym the night before. He went to the gym every day. He used to go clay pigeon shooting and restored motorbikes. He never sat still. I was working full-time, which I've had to give up to care for him."

Man in camouflage smiling holding ear phones.
Mick completed six tours of Northern Ireland with the Army. - Picture credit: Mick and Jules Riches.

"It's such a long list of ways that Help for Heroes has supported us," Jules added. "The intensive physiotherapy they got us is making a huge difference. They got us an iPad, which means we can carry on with our speech therapy at home. 

"They organised for some sponsorship for hearing aids. This was after we'd discovered the stroke had taken his hearing in his right ear. And that is really helping with the speech therapy because he can hear his voice."

Mick receiving a the Lord Lieutenants certificate
Mick, right, receiving the Lord Lieutenants Certificate - Picture credit: Mick and Jules Riches.

The four friends have been able to fall back on their military training and experience, to do their best in the middle of a difficult situation. 

Jules added: "Mick has only ever said to me once that he felt like giving up, and I told him off. I said, 'How dare you. After everything everybody's done, and the work you've put in', I said, 'We're having none of that.'  

"I feel, if you don't stay positive, you just end up spiralling into depression, and you can't do that. You've got to keep positive."

Two women with mugs of tea chatting in a kitchen.
Jules and Anne have become close friends. - Picture credit: Help for Heroes

Help for Heroes Veterans Clinical Advisor Duane 'Fletch' Fletcher organised the support for the two veterans. Fletch served for 39 years as an Army nurse, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

He said: "Supporting veterans with long-term health conditions is a big focus for us now as a charity. And that's regardless of when someone's injury or illness came about; it doesn't need to have been linked to their military career in any way.

"Between them, Mick and Pete served in our Armed Forces for more than 70 years. They've both been struck by a cruel condition and deserve the best possible support so we can help improve their independence.

"As fantastic as our NHS is, it's stretched to the limit. When someone's had a stroke, they need ongoing specialist support to ensure progress. Mick and Pete had used up their allotted NHS physio sessions. Without physio, they'd have gone backwards. We weren't going to let that happen.

"It’s great to see the progress the two guys have made with their walking and talking. These conditions can quite easily lead to social isolation which can make everything so much harder. It's also really nice that they're such good friends now and are supporting one another. Of course, with Mick being ex-Army, and Pete being ex-Navy there was always going to be some healthy competition and banter.

"It's also lovely to see how their wives Anne and Jules are there for each other through such a tough time. Having people around you who really understand what you're going through can make a world of difference."


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