Double amputee Derek was serving in Afghanistan in 2007 when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb. When he awoke from a coma nine days later, he knew that life for he and his wife, Ana, had changed forever. Together, they have learnt to adapt to and overcome so many challenges.
“I grew up in a Fijian village, hearing stories about heroic Fijians who had joined the British Armed Forces. It is what inspired me to join.
“Although adjusting to UK life wasn’t easy (especially the weather!), I really enjoyed my time in the military and I visited a lot of places.
“It was my second tour of Afghanistan in 2007 that changed everything. The vehicle I was in went over an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) hidden in a drum. It ripped our Land Rover apart and it took both of my legs with it.
“I vividly remember seeing my shattered legs whilst lying motionless on a bed of rocks, after I had been thrown from the vehicle during the massive explosion. But the impact didn’t really hit me until I awoke from a coma, nine days later. I saw my wife, Ana, standing by my bed and I asked her what she was doing there. I thought I was still in Afghanistan. Ana showed me a picture of myself lying in the hospital bed, without my legs. It sounds awkward, but what really got to me was asking to use the toilet and being told I couldn’t. I remember staring at the ceiling and trying so hard to hold back my emotions and be strong.
“Adjusting to life without my legs was difficult and very traumatic for both of us. I was told I’d be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life, that I’d never walk again.
“When I stood on my bare stumps for the first time, a month later, it was a huge moment for me. To get to that point was all thanks to the medics and the physios and I knew at that point that I would walk again. And that’s where Help for Heroes came in. They got me involved in sport as part of my rehabilitation, and they even funded the prosthetic legs that took me to the 2012 Paralympics. Competing at the Games was one of the proudest moments of my life.
“I’ve had so many opportunities through Help for Heroes. Ana and I have met some wonderful people through the Band of Brothers and Band of Sisters Fellowship groups, other injured veterans and their families. We share experiences and learn from one another.
“Even after 14 years, I still suffer with phantom limb pain. My prosthetic leg sockets can cause blisters on my stumps, and I suffer with lower back pain, as having artificial limbs affects my posture. I still suffer with mental trauma too – I have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and I still experience flashbacks. And sometimes my injury stops me from doing the simplest of things like visiting family and friends – something we loved to do before. Now though, I just can’t sit for long periods of time.
“Life has changed so much, but all the support we’ve had has had such a positive impact and we will be forever thankful for that. It hasn’t just helped me physically, its helped both us mentally too, to adapt and to overcome any challenges that come our way. Help for Heroes and its amazing supporters, alongside all the wonderful support we’ve had from family and friends, have made that happen. They have such a special place in our hearts.”
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