Father Who Lost Limbs in Afghanistan Teaches Son to Stay Positive
An ex-soldier who lost three limbs after stepping on a bomb in Afghanistan is using his story to teach his child how to stay positive.
With his one good arm, Andy Reid picks up the son he feared he would never have. “Come here, Will,” he says, lifting the one-year-old to his lap.
“Don’t bang yourself on my legs. They’re not all soft and fleshy, are they? No.”
It’s a touching sight: the small boy and the big, bluff ex-soldier, his father, who has no right arm and two metal legs.
“I’ve got to keep going, keep positive,” says the former corporal, who lost three limbs to a landmine in Afghanistan. “It’s not all about me now. What kind of life can William have if his dad is moping about all the time, feeling sorry for himself?”
A few nights ago, when his mind was racing, he wrote a letter to his son.
It is an attempt to explain what happened, in terms the boy will soon understand.
“Daddy went on a patrol with his Army friends to see if any bad men were about,” the letter says. “He stepped on a bomb hidden in the ground. There was a big bang and lots of dust and dirt went up in the air.”
The letter urges his son not to give in to anger about the way things are, and tells how “Mummy loved Daddy so much” she had helped him get better. It is a moving read, which Mr Reid has allowed us to publish in full.
When William goes off to play, he takes up the story again, in an adult version.
“The next thing I was aware of was a big dust cloud all around me. I was lying on my back and I couldn’t hear anything. It was a strange feeling. I knew that something violent had happened to me, but there was no pain.”
As the dust settled, he saw the damage. “I looked down and I couldn’t see my legs. I looked to my left hand and the index finger was hanging off, so I made a fist and kept hold of that. I looked to the right and saw that my hand was twisted up behind my back.” L/Cpl Jamie Hastie had been wounded by the blast, but still managed to crawl over to help him.
“He gave me morphine and applied a tourniquet to what was left of my arm, to stop the bleeding,” says Mr Reid. “I really felt the pain of it being tightened. I’m not sure why I felt that, and not much else.”
Despite being dazed, he had one urgent, intimate question for his friend.
“I remember saying, ‘Are the family jewels all right?’ He was like, ‘Yep, everything’s all right down there, don’t worry about that. We’re going to get you out of here’.”
The then Cpl Reid was airlifted to Camp Bastion, where surgeons amputated his right arm above the elbow, above the knee of one leg and below the knee of the other. They also saved the finger on his left hand, and induced a coma.
“The next thing I remember is waking up in Birmingham.” Cpl Reid, of Burma Company, 3rd Battalion Yorkshire Regiment, had been taken to the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine at Selly Oak Hospital. His girlfriend, Claire, mother and father had travelled from his hometown of St Helens, Merseyside, but he did not recognise them.
“The room was dimly lit and I could just see shadows. When I came to, I thought I was still in Afghanistan, wondering who these strange figures were around me. I remember being quite angry and shouting. It was upsetting for Claire.
“The doctors asked them to leave the room, then told me again where I was and who they were.”
Claire — who is now Mrs Reid — says of the moment she saw his injuries, “I have never felt such a rush of love in my life”. When they went back into the room she put her hand on his chest. This time he recognised her, and reached up to hold it.
“She has stood beside me ever since,” he says.
They had not known each other long, having met eight months before the tour. She was six years younger than him, at 27.
“Quite early on after my injury I told her, ‘This will be life-changing for you as well. If you want to walk away from the relationship, I wouldn’t hold it against you.’ She said, ‘No, you’re still the same guy I met, I want to stay with you.’ ”
Even before the blast, he had wanted to marry her. Now he set his mind to asking in the right way. “I was determined to propose properly, down on one knee. So when I went to the rehabilitation centre at Headley Court, I set that as my goal. It took weeks of training, but eventually I could do it.”
He proposed in a room full of his girlfriend’s friends, on her birthday. “I took her hand and knelt down. I was wobbling around all over the place, trying to get the ring out of my pocket, but I asked her to marry me and she said ‘yes’. I was over the moon about it,” he says.
They were married in September 2011.
“I wouldn’t have got where I am today without Claire by my side in the dark moments. Everyone needs someone like that with them.” She has helped him regain confidence. “When you are on patrol you are a big figure. With your weapon there, you are all about protecting people.
“Even when I was at home, normally I would walk in front of my wife, open the door for her. That has all gone for me now, being able to protect her. Now she goes in and clears a path so I don’t fall over. A lot of confidence has gone, but I am getting it back, slowly.”
For a while, it looked as if they would not be able to have children. “We were not sure we could do that, because of the medication I was on at the time.
“It’s a very important thing for a bloke, isn’t it?” Then they worried about whether it was the right thing to do, given his injuries.
“Me and Claire spoke about that for a while. I couldn’t play rugby with him or go for a bike ride, or the things you see most guys doing. But we just thought, ‘If it happens, it happens.’ Fortunately, we had a perfect little baby boy, and there is plenty I can offer him as a father.”
Mr Reid looks after William during the day, while his mother is at work as a registrar. “It is absolutely fantastic. I am grateful that I can stay at home with him, unlike most fathers, and I will influence his growing up,” says Mr Reid. “We can go to the rugby together.”
What are the challenges for a man with only one arm and no legs, looking after a very active little boy? “He’s crawling a lot more and jumping about, so changing a nappy is getting difficult. I get frustrated with that. I used to have a plastic arm but I got advised not to wear it around the baby in case it malfunctioned and injured him. My daily life would be easier if I had that, but I don’t want to risk hurting William.” They share the same mop of thick, black hair and the same proud look.
Before his son was born, he kept himself going with a series of daredevil challenges. Having been a biker, he got hold of an automatic trike and rode with a friend from Land’s End to John O’Groats in five days, raising £45,000 for ABF the Soldiers’ Charity, which provides rapid response help for servicemen and women in need.
It had helped Mr Reid by making his home wheelchair-accessible and providing a wet room and lift. He became an ambassador for the charity, in whose name he has also completed two tandem parachute jumps and abseiled down the Big One roller-coaster in Blackpool.
He clearly misses the adrenalin rush of the Army, having been a soldier since the age of 21. He followed the example of his grandfather, William, who served in tanks during the Second World War and whose portrait and medals are framed on the living room wall.
“When I go down to the memorial on Remembrance Sunday I will be thinking of my granddad,” says Mr Reid.
“I will also be thinking of Fusilier Shaun Bush and Sergeant Simon Valentine who passed away while I was in Afghanistan and the six members of my regiment who were killed in a Warrior [vehicle] in 2012.
“Whenever I have a challenge, I think about them. I have got to keep moving forwards, doing as much as I can, in their honour.”
Mr Reid left the Army last year and is now a motivational speaker and author, with an autobiography called Standing Tall.
I ask how he manages to stay so relentlessly positive, and in response he calls William back over for a hug. “I am still alive. I know guys who are not. I say to myself, ‘I’m a survivor, not a victim. Let’s get on with it’.”
Originally published on The Telegraph – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/defence/10438266/Father-who-lost-limbs-in-Afghanistan-teaches-son-to-stay-positive.html