Health

Wounded servicemen and women aim for Paralympic glory

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Media captionDave Watson: 'I feel a lot stronger than I did when I had my limbs... I feel good'

Doctors say advances in treatment mean wounded servicemen and women will be challenging for medals at the London 2012 Paralympics.

At least 20 have started training to compete in the Games thanks to new techniques developed at Surrey's Headley Court military rehabilitation centre which are achieving extraordinary results.

Every year thousands of wounded members of the armed forces are treated at the centre.

Many are learning to cope with the loss of legs and arms as a result of deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Patients are helped not only to walk again on prosthetic limbs, but to move and function with maximum speed and efficiency.

The facilities and expertise at Headley Court are unique, and have given some of these amputees the chance to excel at sport.

Feeling stronger

Six months ago gunner Dave Watson, who is 24, was caught in an explosion while out on patrol in Helmand province in Afghanistan. He lost both legs and his stronger right arm.

He says his rehabilitation at Headley Court, under close supervision of sports medicine consultants, has given him a new goal.

"It's done a lot. I feel a lot stronger than I did when I had my limbs because of all the work I'm doing every day. And it makes me really happy to be doing stuff like this."

He has now been shortlisted for the Paralympics to compete in the discus and javelin events, even though he lost his stronger right arm in the explosion.

Specialist equipment at the research centre - including an anti-gravity treadmill and pressure-sensitive running track - allows staff to analyse the way patients move while monitoring their energy workload.

The director of the centre, Dr Andy Franklyn-Miller, says they are making great advances.

"This is a special group of young men and women with significant injuries. The likes have not been seen since Vietnam.

"We've got an opportunity to look at accelerating and making more efficient that process of learning to walk again where some patients have lost their limbs, but also maximising their efficiency and performance, which will have direct results for our Paralympic team."

Medal contenders

Consultants here are in close contact with elite sports coaches to develop a corps of medal contenders.

They say there will also be wider benefits for the NHS, improving prosthetic limbs and helping to prevent injuries in runners.

Dr Nick Carter says treatment for trauma patients will improve.

"As our particular patient cohort aspires to elite levels of sport in some cases, I think that some of the lessons we've learnt here, for example in terms of energy expenditure and running re-education, will have benefits for the younger NHS population."

He says a lot of the patients at Headley are inspirational and that there's always a lot of banter to ensure there's a comfortable atmosphere.

For gunner Dave Watson preparing for the London games has become his new mission.

"It motivates me a lot. It keeps you going. To be somewhere like that. You think I've gone from losing my legs and an arm to being where I am now going into the 2012 Olympics. I know there's still a lot more out there I can do."

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