The Military Army Blog

Brave soldier aims to inspire others

A FORMER soldier who was determined not to lose his leg after he was seriously injured in battle is celebrating a major recovery milestone. Matt O Neil, a former Corporal in the Royal Corps of Signals, was in the Territorial Army (TA) reservists when he was called up to serve in Helmand Province in 2008. During a routine patrol, his vehicle was ambushed by a rocket propelled grenade, killing two Afghan soldiers and injuring others including Mr O Neil, whose right leg was shattered from the knee down.

Doctors said it was too severely damaged to save, but the 41-year-old, who grew up in Darlington and attended Eastbourne School, fought to keep the limb and has battled ever since to regain use of his leg. His long rehabilitation has involved numerous metal implants and skin grafts, during 12 operations within the first six months of his injury. He also suffered a further blow to his recovery when he broke his damaged leg in 2011.

Now Mr O Neil is finally fighting fit again and is celebrating completing his Sports Diver qualification with the British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC). The father-of-two, who served in the Army for seven years prior to joining the TA, now wants to become a scuba diving instructor with BSAC. He says scuba diving has restored his confidence, and he now hopes to inspire other wounded servicemen and women in the future by teaching them to dive.

He said: It was a brilliant experience.

There were always lots of these things going on and I d never been able to do them before because of all the metal work and plaster on my leg.

It was always considered an infection risk. It was a relief do be able to do something physical.

It was very inspiring. They ve asked me to carry on with the qualifications with a view to next year doing the instructor qualification.

The idea is that we will become part of the training team. Mr O Neil, who received support from Help for Heroes, described the horrifying moment he received the injuries.

My leg was so badly mauled, he said.

When the vehicle went up everything we were carrying landed on my leg including the battery acid. It was so badly contaminated. I was rolling around in the dirt under fire.

I was operated on in Camp Bastion and they were going to take my leg off there and then but luckily I had an anaesthetist with me and before the operation I d told him to make sure they kept my leg. Mary Tetley, Chief Executive of BSAC said: It s wonderful to see people who have already been through so much, gaining new skills and confidence.

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