When it comes to serving your country, people choose to do so for many different reasons. For Toni-Sue White’s husband, Alan, being part of the military runs in the family. His uncle was in the Army so ever since he was a boy scout he’d dreamed of signing up.
In 1992 Alan joined the Royal Marines, touring the world on active duty, until a routine march changed everything for him and his family; a disc came out of his back, leaving him paralysed all down his right leg.
It left Alan barely able to walk and Toni-Sue vividly remembers when things came to a head one morning: “Alan went to get up to go to the bathroom and collapsed in front of me. It was incredibly frightening.”
What followed was month after month of unsuccessful physiotherapy and hospital visits, which Toni-Sue had to take him to while having to support their children.
The medication, excruciating pain and deteriorating mental health Alan was experiencing only distanced him further from Toni-Sue and the kids: “He didn’t know who I was most days. The children would come home from school and try and chat with him. An hour later he’d say ‘they aren’t home, where are they?’”
Surgery for Alan could’ve offered him and Toni-Sue a chance to move on from his injury. Instead, it only realised their worst fears; a disc in Alan’s back had to be removed to stop it damaging the spinal cord and nervous system. It would leave him with no sensory feeling in his leg.
With a medical discharge from the Marines now a formality, Toni-Sue could see Alan’s life starting to slip away in front of her eyes. Turning to alcohol, he would get aggressive, lie and provoke arguments.
“For years I felt like his carer and not his wife. That was really hard and I withdrew from our relationship. I still wanted to look after him because he was my husband but I couldn’t even kiss him goodnight.”
Alan was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder but, combined with his military mindset, didn’t want to ask for help. As a result, Toni-Sue found herself walking on a tightrope, scared of saying anything that might trigger a reaction from him: “Alan had got to a point where he felt he was useless and a terrible father. I knew it wasn’t really him but he’d snap at the children. I was trying to protect them from this man they didn’t really know. I think that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I said to him you need help or we’re not going to be here anymore.”
It was a staff member at the Royal Marine rehabilitation unit, Hasler Company, who recommended Alan and Toni-Sue sign up to Help for Heroes’ Band of Brothers and Band of Sisters fellowships. Providing support to wounded Service Personnel and their families respectively, it proved to be the turning point they desperately needed.