A former staff sergeant with the Royal Signals, Del, 37, suffered a severe brain injury in Afghanistan in 2009 when the vehicle he was driving hit an IED during a battle with a Taliban stronghold. “I was in an open-top reconnaissance truck which had a reinforced base designed to withstand blasts. But when we hit the IED, I was blown upwards and my head hit an overhead metal bar,” he explains. The impact knocked him unconscious. He was rescued along with the commander sitting beside him (who was thrown out of the truck and also suffered multiple injuries).
Del woke up in hospital at Camp Bastion and soon afterwards was flown back to the Queen Elizabeth Medical Centre in Birmingham where he learnt he had lost all hearing in his right ear and suffered major bruising to his brain. His memory recall, coordination and ability to process information were badly affected. “It was as if I was living in a permanent fog,” he says. “I became painfully slow at the simplest of tasks and unable to do more than one thing at a time.” At Headley Court, the specialist rehabilitation centre for wounded soldiers, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. “It was a vicious circle – I became tired and sleepy a lot of the time, and that made me frustrated and angry.” Del, who lives in Carlisle with his partner Lisa, a teaching assistant, and stepdaughter Hannah, 18, was medically discharged in November 2012. He had served 19 years, having enlisted as a 16-year-old school leaver. “I’d always thought I would see out my career in the army, but after my injury, I lost all my confidence and I couldn’t see what I was going to do with my life,” he says.
Four months later, he was offered a place on the first Supporting Wounded Veterans trip. “One of the first things you realise when you are put together with a bunch of wounded veterans is that there is always someone worse off that you. We bounced off each other, shared problems and I made instant friendships.” Del had skied before, but still had to overcome anxiety attacks. By the end of the week, however, he says: “It was as if a line had been drawn in the sand. I stopped thinking about the negatives and realised I could look forward to the future.”
On his return home, Del was paired with a mentor to help him focus on re-employment. Shortly afterwards, he spotted a vacancy for an assistant in a local fishing and shooting shop. He applied, and, as a keen fisherman, got the job. He has since returned to Klosters with Supporting Wounded Veterans as a helper. “I feel like my life has moved on a million miles and it has been great to pass on my experience to the other veterans.”