Paul Hemsley was on his second tour of Afghanistan when he stepped on an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). Aged just 21, he lost his right leg and suffered a devastating brain injury that left him paralysed and unable to speak. His mum, Terrie, shares the lifelong impact Paul’s injuries have had on him and the family.
“As a little boy, Paul had a great sense of humour. He was a great artist too; he could make the page light up and talk. We didn’t have much money but we made the most of what we had. We loved going to the beach - that’s impossible now as we can’t push his wheelchair over the sand.
“Paul signed up just before his 18th birthday, in 2008. Just before he went on his second tour of Afghanistan we threw a party for him. I remember standing there watching him and thinking ‘I’m so proud of you’.
“That’s one of my last happy memories of him.
“The night before he was injured, I knew something was going to happen and I didn’t sleep that night. I was sitting in my bedroom when I heard the car come down the street and I knew it was coming for me. Paul was the frontman with the metal detector, and he’d stood on an IED.
“He was in the hospital for a year before spending 16 months in a neurological centre – his dad or I were at his bedside every single day of those three years. If one of us went home, we would always know that a member of his family was with him.
“His injury has changed our lives. His sister Lisa’s, who he is close to, had always dreamt of having a white wedding abroad, but when she got married she did it 20 minutes from where Paul lives and chose a hotel venue that had a full disability room so he could share the day with us. She was adamant that she wasn’t going to do it without her brother.
“It’s painful to think about the life he might have had – Paul will never be a dad which is heart-breaking. He used to hold his niece, Scarlett, up in his arms and pretend to be an aeroplane and she would squeal with laughter.
“The doctors told us they expected Paul to survive for 11 years, and we’re coming up to eight now. As a mother, you don’t bury your kids but that’s at the back of my mind and not something I want to do or be thinking about.
“It’s not always hard. There are times when we laugh or we can be on a high because Paul has achieved something new that he has been trying to do. He is non-communicative, but he expresses himself through his eye gaze and his sense of humour still comes through. I have my wonderful family and we support each other as well as Paul.
“I really enjoyed going on a Help for Heroes respite weekend recently, it was the first one that was specifically aimed at the families of very seriously injured veterans. We spent two fantastic days at a cookery school picking up some new recipe ideas but also feeling like we could say anything and no one would be shocked – you’re with people who just get it without you having to explain stuff.”
Sign up to receive news and information on how, together, we are providing vital support to veterans every day.