Military amputees to benefit from new prosthetics service

Physio Jan Herman helps Steven Richardson get used to his new limbs. ''Picture: Neil Hanna
Physio Jan Herman helps Steven Richardson get used to his new limbs. ''Picture: Neil Hanna
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It was early afternoon in the 
Nad-e-Ali district, an area of Afghanistan’s notorious Helmand province.

With the lunchtime sun beating down on the desert, Private Steven Richardson and his battalion, 1 Scots, were out on a routine patrol, the kind of action they’d taken dozens of times before.

But the end of this patrol, on June 27, 2010, was far from routine.

“We came under contact and we were returning fire with the enemy,” remembers Steven, from Tranent.

“The decision was made that we were going to pull back and move around for a flanking manoeuvre. I was point man for the section so I had a kind of metal detector, sweeping the ground looking for IUDs and clearing a route.”

Steven, who was two weeks away from his 22nd birthday, woke up four days later in Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham. He was missing both of his legs and many of his fingers.

Today, three years on, he walks confidently on his state-of-the-art prosthetic legs and is unbelievably calm as he discusses his ordeal.

He is one of an estimated 66 military amputees in Scotland who will benefit from the prosthetics service launched yesterday at Astley Ainslie Hospital’s SMART Centre and is full of praise for the help he has received.

But the process of rehabilitation has been a long and arduous journey.

“The first time I woke up, I freaked out and started pulling all my tubing out, trying to attack the nurses, so I had to be put back to sleep,” he said. The main rehabilitation centre for injured service personnel is Headley Court in Surrey, more than 400 miles away from Steven’s home. Nonetheless, he spent two years attending rehabilitation there, on a one month on, one off basis. Despite the distance, he remembers it as an encouraging space for his recovery.

He said: “Every single injured soldier goes there. There’s always guys that are further down the line, guys that have got similar if not the same injuries as you, so you can help each other along. That’s the army mentality.”

With the £2 million investment by the Scottish Government into prosthetic services at the SMART Centre, the facilities at Headley Court should be available much closer to home.

“There was a big worry for a while that the guys in England were going to be getting better care than we were up here,” Steven says. “Now, the idea is that whatever’s issued in Headley Court we will get here through the funding.”

Health Secretary Alex Neil, who was at the centre yesterday, said: “We owe it to these guys to allow them to live as normal a life as possible, and that means we must keep investing in the latest technology to give them as normal a life as possible.”

Displaying the advanced prosthetics alongside Steven yesterday was Chris Moon, another double amputee.

In 1995, he was working for a charity clearing land mines in Mozambique when one exploded. Within a year of leaving hospital, he was able to run the London Marathon.

Steven’s physical capacity is similarly incredible. In 2012, he cycled 3051 miles in the Race Across America for Help for Heroes.

“It was definitely about proving a point, that I was still physically capable,” he said. “Nowadays I do what I want because I enjoy it, and I don’t feel I have to prove anything to anyone.”