“I know how frustrating it is not to be able to walk and get from A to B” - Double amputee war veteran tells his amazing story
PUBLISHED: 17:25 23 March 2014 | UPDATED: 17:26 23 March 2014
Sgt Duncan Slater, a double amputee who lives in Norfolk, is currently appearing on our screens as part of the Sunday night ITV documentary ‘Harry’s South Pole Heroes, telling the amazing story of a group’s South Pole trek. He spoke to Andrew Papworth about his life.
As he lay in hospital after being struck by a roadside bomb while serving in Afghanistan, Sergeant Duncan Slater feared he may never be able to walk again or play a part in his new-born daughter’s life.
Now, the double-leg amputee – who recently completed a gruelling trek with Prince Harry to the South Pole – is to use his experience help children around the world who are suffering because of limb loss.
The 34-year-old RAF veteran, of Low Road, Scole, near Diss, has just become an ambassador for Elizabeth’s Legacy of Hope.
The charity - co-founded by the Victoria Bacon, wife of South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon - was started to help children in developing countries who have lost limbs due to illness, malnutrition, accidents and violence.
Sgt Slater described how frustrating it had been for him not to be able to walk after an improvised explosive device (IED) blew up his vehicle while on patrol in Babaji, Helmand province, Afghanistan in July 2009.
He also said how he felt he “wouldn’t be a good dad” because he would not be able to play with his daughter Lilly, born just after he began a year-long battle to walk at the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Unit at Headley Court, Surrey.
His wife, Kim, was five months pregnant with Lilly when the explosion happened.
However he now walks using £10,000-a-piece prosthetic legs made of carbon fibre and titanium, which he said had given him the chance to be a good father again.
It is not a chance afforded to many young people in the world who have lost legs or other limbs through no fault of their own.
Elizabeth’s Legacy of Hope says that thousands of children in developing countries do not have access to good quality care and support, which means they struggle every day with their limb loss as a result.
Sgt Slater said: “I know how frustrating it is not to be able to walk and get from A to B.
“To think that it could be a kid that is left to their own devices as an amputee – how bad is that?
“To think there are children who can’t get to school or do things because they have got no legs really hits a nerve.
“I can’t reverse what’s happened to me. If I can do something with this charity, it may help me feel a bit better about things.”
Isabelle Trick, from the charity, said they were very excited to have Sgt Slater on board.
“He knows from personal experience how much of a struggle it is,” she said.
“Even if you have the care available, it’s still tough. However if you live somewhere where care is not provided, it can be even harder.”
A newly-married sergeant Duncan Slater went out to Afghanistan in 2009 overjoyed with the news that he was about to become a father.
He was lifted out of Helmand province by his colleagues on stretcher, fighting for his life after being hit by a roadside bomb detonated by an insurgent – while his wife was five months pregnant.
As a platoon sergeant and experienced serviceman who had done tours of duty in Iraq and helped with the clear up of Hurricane Katrina in the US, it was his job in his joint Army, Navy and RAF role to help those wounded in action get the medical attention they needed.
But while on patrol training the new Afghan security forces in Babaji as part of Operation Panther’s Claw, it was him who would rely on the help of his colleagues to save his life.
Amazingly, despite being propelled into the air and landing 30ft away in a compound, Sgt Slater was still conscious after the explosion, which went off right underneath him.
“I looked at my left arm and it was completely broken,” he said.
“I looked down to see if I could move my legs and I couldn’t really feel my feet. I could feel bleeding coming from somewhere and I wasn’t sure if I had broken my back.”
The 34-year-old from Inverness knew from his training that help would potentially be a long time in coming.
With his left arm broken, he was trying to get a dressing out and inject himself with morphine one-handed.
Luckily, his training had included how to do first aid one-handed in anticipation of the very situation he now found himself in.
After about 20 minutes, Sgt Slater was eventually found, put on a stretcher and airlifted to a top-grade medical unit at Camp Bastion.
Within 22 hours, he was flown to Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham so his wife Kim could be by his side.
“She was five months pregnant,” he said. “She tried her hardest not to panic. I don’t know how she did it. She was amazing.”
Sgt Slater spent between five and six days in intensive care.
He was then bed-bound for four months while undergoing operations to try to help with his injuries.
He said staff at the hospital were “amazing” and that the bond between him and other injured service personnel in the hospital greatly helped.
However it did not make coming to terms with what happened any easier.
Sgt Slater described the “long, boring days” in hospital where he would experience a rollercoaster of emotions changing hour-by-hour.
“It was quite hard,” he said. “A few days after I got into hospital two friends of mine were killed a couple of hundred metres down the road from where I got blown up.
“It was frustrating that I couldn’t go to their funerals because I wasn’t in the condition. It doesn’t do you much good.”
“There are days when it is quite depressing and you think: ‘Am I ever going to be able to get out of this bed?’ It wasn’t clear and it was looking likely I was never going to be able to walk again.
“However on a good day you were thinking: ‘It’s a couple of broken legs, I’ll be back out for the end of the tour.
“There was a real mix – some days of excruciating pain and others where it wasn’t so bad.”
After four months, two nurses helped Sgt Slater get into a wheelchair. Having been bed-bound for such a long time, Sgt Slater said that gave him huge freedom to move about, go to the shops or visit friends.
Duncan Slater become the first double amputee to ski to the South Pole as part of an inspirational expedition by the charity Walking with the Wounded based at Stody, near Melton Constable.
Accompanied by their Royal patron, Prince Harry, the adventurers – including four injured British soldiers – successfully reached the bottom of the world after more than two weeks pulling sleds across Antarctica.
Sgt Slater said the trek was a “once in a lifetime” opportunity.
That expedition is the subject of a two-part documentary on ITV called Harry’s South Pole Heroes. The second part of the show is on Sunday at 8pm on ITV1.
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