A BRAVE soldier horrifically injured in a rocket attack in Afghanistan told today how he was facing the biggest challenge of his life.
Corporal Andy Garthwaite lost his right arm after taking a direct hit from a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) while serving in Helmand Province in September 2010.
He later made medical history after becoming the first person in the UK – and only the fifth in the world – to undergo a six-hour operation in Vienna, Austria, to prepare his nervous system for a special bionic arm.
Now Cpl Garthwaite has begun the long and often painful process of “training” his brain to reactivate nerves in his shoulder, so he can eventually operate the state-of-the-art false limb.
With help from experts at Headley Court, a defence medical rehabilitation unit in Epsom, Surrey, he is having to teach his nerves how to connect with and operate the highly sophisticated bionic limb.
Cpl Garthwaite, 24, of Cleadon, said: “I’m still getting a lot of pain in my shoulder and some of my muscles have been affected by paralysis, but the most difficult thing is co-ordinating my thought processes for the prosthetic.
“I’m due back at Headley Court in July and I will be doing things like linking up with a computer screen, so that I can imagine raising my elbow and performing other movements.
“I lost my arm 18 months ago and my brain is no longer sending out the right signals to move the arm.
“I’m experiencing a lot more pain than I thought I would, and I went through a bit of a downer recently, but I’m determined to be ready for the prosthetic to be fitted in a few months’ time.”
Next January, Cpl Garthwaite will fly out to Vienna to have his progress assessed by surgeons and experts from bionics company Otto Bock.
But he put aside his medical battle to marry his long-term sweetheart Kailey Oliphant, on Easter Sunday.
“The wedding at Close House, outside Newcastle, was fantastic and we later had a great honeymoon in the Maldives,” he said.
Today, Cpl Garthwaite was due to go to Bede Burn Primary School in Dene Terrace, Jarrow, to accept a cheque on behalf of the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association, which helps serving members of the armed forces, their dependents and families.