A SOLDIER who survived a horrific rocket attack in Afghanistan will make UK medical history when he becomes a bionic man this month.
Corporal Andy Garthwaite will travel to Austria for a life-changing operation, after he lost his right arm when he was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) in Helmand Province.
Operated by electronic pulses from his brain, the sophisticated prosthetic will be fitted during a five-hour operation at a specialist centre in Vienna.
Cpl Garthwaite, 24, of Sunderland Road, Cleadon, said: “I’ve been told I’m the first person in the UK to undergo this operation and only the fifth person in the world.
“I was anxious when I was first told about the surgery, but now I just want to get on with it and have the arm fitted. But I have to learn how to operate the prosthetic with my brain and that means another tough 18 months or so.”
Cpl Garthwaite’s right arm was virtually severed when he took a direct hit from a RPG while serving with The Queen’s Royal Lancers in Nadi-Alo, Helmand Province, in September 2010.
The soldier, who saw a colleague and good friend killed alongside him, was only saved after a brave rescue by military personnel.
Cpl Garthwaite, who also suffered wounds to his eye and chest and was left deaf in his right ear, has just returned from a pre-op session at Headley Court, a defence medical rehabilitation unit in Epsom, Surrey.
He said: “Basically, the medical staff talked me through what kind of arm I will be getting and what to expect.
“I will travel to Vienna on January 24 and spend two days in the hospital there after the surgery, then another week in Austria for recuperation, before returning for some down time.
“It could be 18 months before I’m fully functional with my bionic arm and – in the worst-case scenario – they may have to take nerves from my leg if there are problems with my stump, but I’m positive about the surgery.”
Asked about his future military career, Cpl Garthwaite said: “I think I’m looking at a medical discharge, because there’s very little chance of me returning to frontline duties.
“I’m still weighing up my options and considering future career choices.”
Cpl Garthwaite is to marry long-term girlfriend Kailey Oliphant, 24, with the ceremony due to take place next Easter Sunday.