Three South Tyneside youngsters have been hailed as heroes for the care they have given their veteran father over the past few years.
Georgia, Ethan and Grace Burns from Marsden, South Shields, have been awarded a prestigious Hero Award by the Charity Help for Heroes after being nominated by their grateful dad, Jason for “providing the reason he gets up each day”.
Jason was serving in Afghanistan in the Royal Marines as a Warrant Officer 2nd class, when his world changed forever.
During a mortar bomb alert in Lashkar Gah, Jason began putting on his protective clothing but slipped on roller track flooring and landed on a chair, damaging his back.
He was flown back to the UK but was unable to undergo surgery because of nerve compression in his spine.
He was also diagnosed with depression in 2012 and medically discharged.
Support from Help for Heroes welfare team and being able to mix with other wounded veterans at its northern recovery centre, Phoenix House in North Yorkshire, have helped Jason come to terms with the end of career.
But it is his family – wife Andrea and his three children – which are his main reason to carry on.
He said: “Taking their strength and love gives me the focus, fight and patience to continue the work I need to do on myself as a wounded healer; to ensure that, one day, I will be in control of my PTSD as opposed to the other way round.
“Georgia, Ethan, and Grace are the most delightful, loving and caring children you could ever meet – especially when you consider the changes they’ve had to go through.
“This can only be a testament to their individual characters and robust natures.”
Georgia was just 11 when her dad came home with both physical and mental wounds but she immediately stepped up, helping both parents whenever she could.
Her efforts led to her becoming a Young Carer. She is now 16 and studying for A-levels at Whitburn Academy Sixth Form, and wants to study Psychology with a view to helping others like her dad.
Ethan, 14, who is autistic and attends Jarrow Post 11 Unit, did not really understand what had happened to Jason and, as a result, became very unsettled at school.
Jason said: “He has such a loving, sensitive nature that then – and even now – he will always cuddle me and ensure that I am OK, which is beautiful.
“Grace was only three at the time of my injury.
“The last time I was able to pick her up was during my leave, six months earlier. That is a memory which has never left me and will never leave her, which is heart-breaking.
“Grace, now eight and a pupil at Whitburn Village Primary School, loves the weekends as I need to lie down frequently due to my injury, so she just lies with me playing on her iPad.
“We don’t even talk much – just cuddle and, now and again, simply say: ‘I love you’.
The Hero Awards were introduced in 2010 by Help for Heroes founders Bryn and Emma Parry as a way of the charity acknowledging and championing people who have all done something extraordinary to support wounded servicemen and women on their road to recovery.