A Llandysul veteran has hailed his new lease of life after military charities and a wheelchair manufacturer joined forces to repurpose an all-terrain 4×4 electric wheelchair, enabling him to embrace the outside world once more.
Help for Heroes, SSAFA (Soldiers’, Sailors’ & Airmen’s Families Association), and a regimental association had, initially, funded the specialist wheelchair for a veteran with motor neurone disease, who, sadly, passed away shortly after taking possession.
But the charities were quick to realise the wheelchair could be adapted to benefit 55-year-old Army veteran Paul Waters. Help for Heroes’ Veterans Clinical Advisor, Helen Neve, then contacted Able Mobility Solutions (AMS), which had supplied the original chair to request a design change bespoke to Paul, and to both service and warranty the chair.
Paul, who was originally from Birmingham, joined the Royal Artillery aged just 16, and served nine years before leaving in 1991.
“I had a damaged knee before I joined the Army and had a second medical to see if I was fit to join and I passed that. But as my career was progressing the knee was getting worse and worse.
“I didn’t get a medical discharge but that’s why I left the army, because I was struggling so much with my knee. I ended up having 14 operations and a knee replacement, and then my back started going, before I found out I had arthritis in both hips and a crumbling spine.
“I also have an ulcer which presses on the nerves, which is inoperable. And I’ve recently been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).”
He was overwhelmed to be in receipt of the specialist wheelchair, which will enable him to, one again, access the community with his family and friends.
“The wheelchair has been an absolute godsend for me. I’ve always been an outside person, but for the last seven years, I’ve been stuck in the house. I haven’t been able to drive; all I’ve been able to do is sit and watch the telly all day, go to bed, and then get up the next day and do the same again.
“It was just destroying me. Having the wheelchair has given me a purpose; I can get up and go out. My mate lives about two miles away and I’ve driven to him, and we’ve headed up to the local cafe to have a cuppa and so on. Before the wheelchair, I wasn’t able to do that.
“To other people that will seem like an everyday thing they’re able to do, but for me, now, it’s special. It takes so much effort for me to do things; having MS drains me so quickly. So, the wheelchair is a godsend. I just couldn’t believe it. I’m so appreciative of Help for Heroes and everybody who’s been involved in getting it for me.”
Paul knows there are many veterans out there who, like him – sometimes, literally – put pride before a fall. He realises his error, now, and hopes he can be an exemplar for his contemporaries who may be suffering in silence.
“Help for Heroes has been brilliant. I’m the sort of person that would rather struggle along than ask for help. My mate, who was already being supported by Help for Heroes, told me all I needed to do was phone Helen.
“It was such a big thing for me to do because of my pride. Like most veterans, I’d rather struggle on, but my wife was on at me as my condition was getting both her and my daughter down, so I thought I had to bite the bullet and just do it.
“And I’m glad I did. I spoke with Helen, and she’s been fantastic with everything. I go out every day, now – even in the rain I go out,” he smiled.
“I’d recommend to anybody who feels they need help to just contact Help for Heroes. Military people just struggle along, stubbornness kicks in and you don’t want to ask for help. That was me; it’s the way we’re bred. But I think now, of all the years I struggled yet the help and support was there. I just hadn’t asked.”
Richard Noble, a director of AMS, was joined by Helen when he delivered the chair to a clearly emotional Paul.
“I applied for clinical funding to facilitate this repurposing and, thankfully, it was approved by our Grants team. It was a cold and blowy day for training, but Paul managed well, and he couldn’t wait to go out, as, apart from hospital appointments, which cause him extreme pain to sit in a standard wheelchair, he has not been out for months.”
Help for Heroes champions the Armed Forces community and helps them live well after service. The charity helps them, and their families, to recover and get on with their lives. It has already supported more than 30,000 people and won’t stop until every veteran gets the support they deserve.
The Charity supports veterans, and their families, from any branch of the UK military – regulars or reserves – irrespective of length or place of service, and locally embedded civilians (and their families) who worked alongside our Armed Forces.