Smith Served with the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards in a career that saw him travel the globe. After a serious injury and rehabilitation he became a strongman and is currently preparing to launch his own disabled strongman competition, appropriately called, The Superhumans. He spoke with Civvy Street about his journey, back from the brink.
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A soldier who contracted a life-threatening disease in Afghanistan was given paracetamol and told he was depressed by army medics.
It took three months for the former Lance Corporal to be diagnosed with Q Fever which he picked up while serving in Helmand Province.
Despite being prevalent in the area, the man – who wants to remain anonymous – wasn’t vaccinated against the disease and developed symptoms within days of starting his deployment.
The bacterial infection can be spread to humans by infected animals and, while flu-like symptoms can sometimes pass in two weeks; they can last much longer. The infection can also lead to life-threatening problems if it spreads to other parts of the body, such as the heart.
The former soldier, who recently received a five figure sum after taking legal action against the Ministry of Defence in relation to the medical care he received, is keen to speak out to raise awareness among other servicemen who may have the same disease and not even know it.
“It was in 2012 when I was deployed to Afghanistan,” he said. “I was working around a burns pit – there was all sorts in there – it could have had animal carcasses in there.
“Within a couple of hours of starting work I started feeling ill and went to the clinic on the patrol base. I had a high temperature, was sweating heavily, coughing, feeling dizzy, very sensitive to sunlight, struggling to see and I felt confused. I also had a lot of throat pain.
“They thought I had a heat illness but I knew I hadn’t. I was quite angry as I’d been in the army for 13 years and been on many tours, I had enough experience to know about keeping myself hydrated.”
After being kept in bed for a week, the former army engineer, who’s originally from Merseyside, was eventually allowed to fly back to Camp Bastion to visit a larger hospital.
While the first doctor said he was “run down and depressed” and gave him paracetamol, he believes the second doctor took his concerns more seriously and ordered blood tests which the ex-soldier believes were then misplaced.
He was then sent back to his patrol base to continue his duties.
He added: “I was a squaddie for so many years, I wasn’t just after sympathy. It felt like if you don’t have broken bones or gun-shot wounds, they wouldn’t take any notice and I worry that there are guys in the same situation as me who are being fobbed off.”
After finishing his deployment, the ex-soldier, who has served in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Sierra Leone went straight to an NHS hospital and it was there that they diagnosed Q Fever.
The married dad-of-one was put on antibiotics for six months and still has to go to hospital every month for treatment. He now has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and depression which could have been avoided if he had received treatment sooner.
He added: “I used to be extremely physically fit and strong minded but since this I’ve been affected physically and mentally. I used to play football at a high level but I tried running a few miles recently and I was in agony.
“I’ve never suffered from stress or anxiety before but over the last year I’ve been bad. I’ve never gone
down the drugs or alcohol route but I can see how some ex-soldiers do and that’s why I really want to raise awareness that you need to battle to get medical help.”
The Ministry of Defence agreed a settlement out of court but refused to admit they were at fault and the soldier has since left the army.
His lawyer Zoe Sutton, an expert in military personal injury claims from Slater and Gordon said: “Members of our armed forces do a difficult and dangerous job. They understand the risks involved in their work but the least they expect is to be protected where possible. This includes basic things such as being issued with the correct equipment and being treated by medical professionals who are fully conversant with the risks of diseases that are prevalent in the areas where they are deployed.
“As well as not receiving prompt antibiotic treatment in accordance with the MoD’s own policy on Q Fever, this disease wasn’t diagnosed until he returned to the UK months later. Doctors here couldn’t understand how army doctors hadn’t recognised the symptoms despite it being prevalent in the area.
“It’s been five years since my client contracted this disease and he is still suffering and worries that he will never recover. His main priority now is to raise awareness of this illness so that other servicemen can gain a better understanding and be proactive in the diagnosis to ensure that they get the prompt antibiotic treatment to stop the chronic effects developing. He hopes to use his experience to educate fellow servicemen to look out for symptoms.”