Phillip Hardwell

Phillip, a Royal Artillery Veteran, explains how SSAFA helped when he was taken seriously ill, supporting both him and his family.

Phillip Hardwell

Phillip, a Royal Artillery Veteran, explains how SSAFA helped when he was taken seriously ill, supporting both him and his family.

Phillip Hardwell is a 32-year-old Royal Artillery veteran who knows from personal experience the impact SSAFA’s support can have.

The support we have received is so amazing. I know the charity will back me and my family no matter what, even if I am no longer in the military.

Phillip recently spoke to us over the phone from his bed at the Royal Papworth Hospital, where he was isolating from Covid-19 following a heart transplant.

“I was just 18 when I joined the 29th Commando Regiment and undertook two tours of Afghanistan, as well as served in the Falklands and Norway. It was a privilege to serve with such incredible soldiers. I could never have imagined that I would be out of the Army at 30 and fighting for my life.”

In 2017, Phillip was diagnosed with an inherited condition called Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy (ARVC) after undergoing an unrelated operation on a bicep injury. ARVC causes life-threatening arrythmias. Phillip knew just how serious it could be as unfortunately it had taken his mother’s life several years before:

“I had been fitted me with an internal defibrillator to restart my heart in case of sudden cardiac arrest. I hoped that this would allow me to continue soldiering, as I couldn’t imagine a life outside of the Army. Unfortunately, in 2018, I was told that it was no longer safe for me to serve. But nonetheless, the news came as a hammer blow.

“The prospect of having to change careers in my mid 30s was terrifying, not least because we were expecting our second child. It was tough to process, and I still miss the friendships I built in my time in service.”

We wish we could tell you that the loss of his army career and income was the worst that Phillip and his family had to endure. Unfortunately, his health took a devastating turn for the worse shortly after he was discharged:

“I was admitted to hospital in February 2019 after developing blood clots on my heart. It proved to be the first of several hospital stays that year, as doctors struggled to stay on top of my rapidly deteriorating condition. The only way forward was to have a heart transplant.”

Phillip was transferred to the transplant unit at Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, where specialists fought to keep him alive while he awaited a suitable heart to become available. He explained, it was touch and go as to whether he would survive the wait:

“I suffered a collapsed lung and they had to hook me up to an ECMO machine for ten days to keep me breathing. Somehow, I managed to survive that, only to then suffer a bleed on the brain, which left me so weak that for a while a transplant would not have been impossible.”

Phillip was advised to reach out to SSAFA by his former Army colleagues shortly before he was admitted into Papworth Hospital. We immediately partnered Phillip with one of our trained volunteer caseworkers, Alan. This was the start of a close and life-changing relationship:

“Alan is a great man, who helped my family a lot. He treated me as a person, and when we didn’t have support from elsewhere, he helped us out. He was friendly, knowledgeable and gave me advice and support and went out of his way to help us.

“From helping to arrange for a mobility scooter when I was too weak to walk, to accommodation for my wife Roxanne when she needed a place to stay near the hospital, when I was fighting for my life.”

At a time when Covid-19 has made life more difficult, it is critical that we are there to support Phillip and his family:

“Two weeks after my brain bleed, a suitable heart finally became available and I had my transplant operation. Thanks to SSAFA, Roxanne was by my side before and after the operation, and I am so grateful for that. Without her I am not sure if I would have made it as far as it did.

“The spread of Covid-19 means that I couldn’t return home to continue my recovery immediately, and I could only dream of the time when my immune system was deemed strong enough to allow me to hug my children again. The closest I had been to them is seeing them from a distance through the back garden. It was tough for them when all they want is a cuddle from their mum and dad. It was like that for a couple of weeks until my immune suppressants worked and there was less of a risk. I was overjoyed when I could finally hug my children again, it felt like such a long time coming.

“The support we have received is so amazing. I know the charity will back me and my family no matter what, even if I am no longer in the military.”