What we do / Our Stories / Tony Williams

Tony

Categories: PTSD , Hero Stories

As an Army nurse in Afghanistan, Tony risked his life to keep his comrades safe. During a fierce firefight he was shot and paralysed from the waist down. He was lucky to survive. Thanks to his determination and support from Help for Heroes, he defied doctors who said he would never walk again.

“Being a front-line Army nurse in Afghanistan was one of the proudest times of my life. It was scary but rewarding. I was showing the locals we were there to help.”

“On the day I was shot, we’d already been in a firefight with the Taliban that morning. We returned to base and were sent straight back out on a security patrol. It was barely mid-morning, but the temperature was above 30 degrees and climbing.

“We’d not been out of the compound for a minute when we were fired on. I dropped to the floor, and the infantry lads ran forward to engage.

“I looked up and saw my friend, lying face down. I knew he was critical. I ran to him, he was still breathing. Another soldier and dear friend came to help, and we both got hit. I was dragged out of the line of fire. The bullet was in my shoulder, I’d been lucky. I told the guys to pack my wound so I could get back to the casualties.

“I ran to another lad who had been shot. I tried to push him on his side. A bullet hit my left hip, tore through my abdomen, and hit my spine. The pain was excruciating. As a nurse, I knew I was dying. I was dragged away and one of the soldiers started using life-saving techniques I had taught him.”

After an agonising 16 minutes, Tony and two other casualties, were taken by helicopter to the emergency department at Camp Bastion. He was met by his nursing mentor and friend, Lieutenant Colonel Duane ‘Fletch’ Fletcher.

“My main focus was on two other lads who had been hit. I wanted them to be treated first. But Fletch said, 'No, let us deal with them and you’. I looked around and saw friends and colleagues. It was surreal.”

Tony during his service

Tony during his service

 

Written off

Tony was flown back to the UK and was in a coma for six days. He needed 52 units of blood and 36 hours of surgery.

“When I woke up, I was told I wasn’t going to walk again and that I had pretty much zero chance of having kids.

“I was told to accept life in a wheelchair.

“As soon as I could wriggle my toes and get movement back in my right leg, I tried to climb out of bed and hobble around. I refused to be in my wheelchair as much as I could.

“Several times I was told ‘Sit down, you’re not going to walk, accept reality’. It caused a huge strain on my mental health.”

 

Hope was born

“To my surprise, four years after I was injured my eldest daughter was born. I cried with joy. It was the best feeling ever. Two years later, my second daughter was born. I’d not only achieved what they told me was impossible, I had achieved it twice.

I began to believe I was able to achieve more. My daughters gave me even more determination. It bothered me I couldn’t be fully mobile.

“My goal became increasing my walking distance with leg braces and increasing my levels of endurance, especially in terms of pain. I realise now, this was also a product of post-traumatic stress disorder. I was struggling with the trauma and accepting my disability.

“PTSD is complicated. People have this misconception you get violent, I would bury my head in the sand and cry on my own. I saw myself as a liability.

“My PTSD and my desire to push myself physically put me on a different path from the girls’ Mum. A couple of years later I was a single parent.

“In 2019 I met Maria. We went for a date at a coffee shop and got on really well. She has a daughter a similar age to my two girls. They all get on so well. I was determined not to let my injuries stop us having an active life together.”

Tony and his family

Tony and his family

 

Desperate for help

“The biggest issue I've had is the lack of supportive leg braces that are specific and work for my disability. A lot of the leg braces are just off the shelf and one size fits all.

“It was frustrating being in a wheelchair being told ‘you're not going to walk’, to then go into a physio gym and see someone who had had three limbs amputated sprinting on a treadmill.

“I was developing really bad pain and sciatic spasms. I couldn’t be the Dad I wanted to be.

“I was strongly thinking about getting my leg amputated, just to increase mobility. It seemed there was nothing available to help me be active with the girls.

“That prompted me to contact Help for Heroes. I won't lie, I was desperate.”

‘Finally, someone who understood’

This set Tony on the path to receiving life-changing support. It also led to a surprise reunion with Fletch, now a member of the Help for Heroes Veterans Clinical Services team. They support veterans and family members on their physical recovery journey.

“It was emotional hearing Fletch's voice again. He said, ‘You're a long way off getting your leg amputated. We can get you a leg brace and support you to achieve what you want’.

“I cried for joy. Finally, I was going to get the help I needed from somebody who understood me.

“Help for Heroes got me a leg brace that was specific for my disability.

“Thanks to the new brace, and the physio and support that Fletch organised, I’m pain free. I’m walking further, faster and taller. I'm able to be the parent I want to be.

“This has given me a huge sense that I can achieve things again. It has made our quality of life so much better. As a family we love being active, going to parks and walking at the beach. I don’t need to plan around my disability or pain thresholds. I’m not thinking about having my leg amputated now.

“I’ve now got my own business. I’m a parent governor of two schools. I feel like a productive member of society again; rather than just an injured veteran, stuck on my couch, in pain, feeling unemployable.

“Help for Heroes has a true understanding of the complex needs of a veteran who’s suffered trauma. They really strive to give us back a full quality of life. They understand all our needs, physical, mental, and for some spiritual, because trauma takes people to very different places. They are so supportive, and they support the families and their children too.”

 

Tony and Fletch

Tony and Fletch

A bright future

“Maria and I got engaged at Christmas. I’m really looking forward to spending the rest of our lives together.

“Being able to walk Maria back down the aisle after we get married is going to be a special moment for us. It's something I thought was going to be denied me.”

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