Haydn Wiggin

Flight Lieutenant Haydn Wiggin turned to SSAFA for support following the tragic deaths of his three year old daughter and unborn child.

Haydn Wiggin

Flight Lieutenant Haydn Wiggin turned to SSAFA for support following the tragic deaths of his three year old daughter and unborn child.

Devastated by the deaths of his three-year-old daughter and unborn child, following a crash on the A34, Flight Lieutenant Haydn Wiggin turned to SSAFA for support.

Though the pain he has been through can’t be taken away, he thanks the charity for giving him an outlet for his grief and being there for him when he needed them most.

Every day is a bit different, I wouldn’t change it.

“I went to the careers office and said, 'I want to join the military'. I didn't even know which branch of the military and settled on the RAF only because my brother was already serving as an air traffic controller. Then I thought, 'Which branch looks the most interesting? Pilot. Put that down as first choice.' I went for it and got it. That was 16 years ago, and I've loved it. Every day is a bit different, I wouldn't change it.

“I initially trained on the Harrier and then moved onto helicopters, which I always wanted. I've been flying the Chinook since 2013 and have travelled, carrying out exercises and deployments all over the world, from the Middle East to the Falklands.

“I have recently returned to Odiham and have become an instructor preparing frontline crews for operations.”

He said, 'There's been an accident'

Haydn was posted away to the Falklands when a harrowing call came in to tell him that his family had been involved in a crash with a lorry on the A34 and were seriously injured.

The driver of the lorry would later be sentenced to six years in prison for causing death by dangerous driving, after he drove into stationary traffic. He has still not revealed what he was doing, that led to the accident.

“I was in the Falklands when the crash happened. I'd been there for 3 weeks.

“I remember I was sat down for dinner. I'd had a great day flying and at about 19:30, the boss came in, and said 'Wiggy, can I have a word?'. He pulled me out the dining room and I honestly thought I was about to get told off for something. To get pulled out of dinner, I must have done something pretty bad. Instead he said, 'There's been an accident. Collette and Isla have been in an accident. They're in hospital. That's all we know.'

“I spent the next couple of hours trying to phone the hospital, to find out what had happened. I eventually got through to the ward, and I spoke to Collette. She’d broken her neck but I knew she was alive because I was talking to her, and at that stage our baby was alive and Isla was alive, but she had head and neck injuries. I knew I needed to get home and the RAF were incredible at getting me back – but each hour was torture.

“I was classed as a Comp-A (compassionate A) case, which means get him home by the quickest means possible, because someone might die. It was assessed that the best way to get me home was to wait until the morning, because there happened to be a flight leaving to go back to Brize Norton anyway.

“I packed everything and waited for my flight, wondering what was happening with the little information I had. My colleagues rallied around me, helping as much as they could, and for this I’ll be eternally grateful. I think I only cried for 5 minutes with the shock.

“In the morning I called Collette again, and she broke the news that our unborn baby had died. They had found a heartbeat when she went into hospital, but she was convinced that there was something wrong, and after another scan they confirmed that we’d lost the baby. It was almost 20 weeks.

“It came time to board. In total it's an 18-hour journey back from the Falklands. I spent two 8-hour flights crying from grief and also thinking of every next possible outcome. It ranged from, 'Are Collette and Isla both going to die? Are they both going to have spinal injuries?' Is my house going to be good enough for 2 people in a wheelchair? Will I have to move to a new house? Will I have to leave work to care for them?'.

“I remember having to stop at Ascension Island for two hours while they refueled the aircraft. I got sent to the airport VIP lounge by myself and an admin sergeant came in and asked me how I was doing and do I want to go for a drive. I said yes, but at the time I thought, ‘why is this stranger taking me for a drive around the island?’. It was dark and we went to the local town. There were people chopping up huge fish and throwing bits over the jetty, and there were loads of sharks feeding on the scraps . It was just an amazing sight. I realised, quite a few weeks afterwards, that the sergeant actually made two very painful hours just disappear, a truly thoughtful act that I just didn’t appreciate at the time. I was shown so many small acts of kindness, that got me through those days.

“I got back on the plane and flew to Brize Norton. The same sergeant had phoned ahead and confirmed that a chinook was going to pick me up. It was waiting for me turning and burning, ready to go the second the plane landed. I was the first person off the aircraft, straight onto the back of the chinook and straight to the hospital. They handed me a bag of food, and flew, I think the quickest anyone has ever got from Brize Norton to the John Radcliffe. I just sat with my head in my hands. I didn't want to talk to anyone. I couldn’t even say anything when we touched down. I just walked off.

“My brother and sister were there when I arrived, as was an RAF nurse who I knew from Wittering. She was now at Oxford and somehow knew that I was coming so she took me to where I needed to be."

He took me and my mum into a room, to give us the writing on the wall.

“My first reaction was I had to see Isla. I had spoken to Collette so I knew she was alive and could speak. I needed to see my little girl. I went to the intensive care unit, and my parents were there. I saw them and went into see Isla, lying with a massive neck brace frame that had been screwed into her head, and all sorts of tubes in and out of her. She was unconscious and not looking well.

“It was weird because Isla was really ill when she was born. She was unconscious in intensive care for a week, with brain damage, because she'd basically suffocated. Over the course of the week, her brain activity went from zero to max. It was a miraculous recovery. She wore a little cold suit to cool her core body temperature down, to stop her brain swelling, so I was used to seeing her in hospital.
In my mind I thought ‘she's in hospital again. We'll get through it again and get out the other side'.

“I sat with Isla for a bit, and then I went up to see Collette, and she was obviously devastated. She had a neck brace on for her broken neck. She'd impacted the steering wheel…face-planted it, basically. She'd had an operation by then, to repair her septum which had totally come off, and her nose looked bashed in. She looked like she'd been 10 rounds with Mike Tyson.

“I sat with her for a bit, and then I went back down to see Isla. The day was just spent running between the two of them.

“I met Isla’s consultant who was looking after her, 24-hours for five days straight, sleeping at the hospital to be there if things changed.

“He took me and my mum into a room, to give us the writing on the wall. I think I walked in the room, expecting him to say, 'Isla's very ill, she's going to be here for a couple of months,' but it was, 'She's very ill, and I've never seen anyone with this kind of brain injury survive’. That is when I knew that she was going to die."

I regret not holding her longer.

“No one had told Collette just how serious Isla’s injuries were. So, I had to go upstairs and tell her that Isla wasn’t going to make it. That was hard.

“At that point Collette hadn’t even been able to see her, because of her own injuries, but when we found out the reality we made sure they could take her to see Isla straight away.

“The consultant, James, explained that she was on a lot of machinery and medication which was keeping her alive, but that it’s likely without it she would die. The plan was to slowly take the medication and life support away over the course of 24 hours and see what would happen.

“I’d come from halfway across the world and needed a shower. The hospital had set me up a room and I was just about to get in the shower when Carol, my mother-in-law, ran in and said 'You need to come and see Isla now'. They'd reduced the first stage of her medication, and she'd had a fit. When I got there, she'd stopped fitting, but she had red blotches all over her. I had to ask 'Why are we doing this? Why are we putting her through this, for the next 24 hours? We know what the outcome is going to be. Stop doing this then’. It felt wrong to prolong what she was going through and I couldn’t bear for her to be in pain.

“The doctors agreed that we should not continue this'. They got the spinal surgeon, who'd clearly, the night before, spent hours in theatre, putting a framework all over her, to come and take it all off. Collette was there, in a wheelchair, and I picked Isla up. We both held her, and the doctors turned everything off. That was it.

“I regret not holding her longer.

“After, there was a surreal feeling. This all happened in the one day I had arrived, and we had no idea what to do next. It was pretty late at night at that stage. Collette was taken back up to her room and they'd sorted me a room too in the attic of the hospital, where the on-call doctors sleep.

“My best mate had come to be with me and stayed there too. We just sat outside for a bit, thinking, 'What the f*** do I do now?' I’ve gone from having this growing family unit that we’d always planned, having one and a half children, to having nothing but Collette.”

There was too much to process.

“Isla died on the Saturday. On the Wednesday, Collette had to be induced to deliver the baby we lost, all with a broken neck. Collette was absolutely incredible. It was the same day we were meant to have the 20-week scan and find out the sex of the baby.

“When you go into a maternity ward, you think it's all smiles and happy times, and then you go to the very top of the maternity ward and realise, 'There's another side to this.' Having to give birth to your dead baby.

“It took about 9 hours of labor until Harry was delivered. We called the baby Harry, because that is the name Isla wanted if she had a baby brother.

“With everything else that happened, I didn’t have any time to grieve the loss of the baby. There was too much to process.”

When we got home from hospital, I was very practical

After the crash, Haydn took four months off work. Supported by the RAF and members of his squadron, he was able to be with his wife and help her in her recovery.

“The RAF was amazing. My current boss, (flight commander) was out in the Falklands with me and my previous flight commander (who is now my squadron boss), who'd left a year earlier, turned up at the hospital. I remember asking him, 'What do I do about work? Do I need to be there on Monday to sort out some leave?'. He told me to take as much time as I needed. I decided I was ready to go back after Christmas in 2015, four months on, because I was ready, but I knew Christmas would be hard.

“When I left the Falklands, it meant there was a shortfall. There was one pilot less than their needed to be. Someone else gets screwed over, and has to leave their family, and go and fill the gap, but you never hear anything about it. I've never thanked that guy. I ended up being roommates with him in Iraq, and it just wasn't even talked about, and I should have said, 'Thank you for stepping in.' He's got 2 kids that he left to go and do that, which he wasn't expecting to. I’m extremely grateful to him.

“When we got home from hospital, I was very practical, and I tidied. Before I went to the Falklands, we were going to move Isla out of the baby's room and make a big girl's room for her. We'd had her bed delivered, so I made it into the room that it was meant to be.

“For 3 or 4 months, I was at home helping Collette, changing her neck brace every day. Her friends had bought loads of things for her, like a chair to sit on in the shower, and a specialist chair for the living room. The house was turned into a care home almost, but she did really well. We had to go back to the John Radcliffe Hospital, almost every week, for her to get her neck x-rayed. Every week we'd hope they would say it was okay, but each time it was 'no, another week'. She was in the brace for 12 weeks in the end.

“Fortunately, I think we're both quite positive people. I can understand why some people would think, 'Woe is me. The world's against me. I just want to curl up in a ball and die.' But despite being sat at home with a broken neck, having lost a child and an unborn baby. Collette had the strength to go back to work every day and carry on living. She’s incredibly strong and knew that she needed to fill her day up to help her continue.

“Once she got the brace off we went to the Caribbean, I bought a new 3-piece suite, and I bought a new TV, and I bought a new car, and I bought a new motorbike, and I just threw money at the problem. I guess that's how I dealt with it. Looking back now, it's like, 'Buy stuff. Fill the void with objects that are never going to fill the void.'

SSAFA came at just the right time

Though Haydn was able to cope following his devastating loss, sadness eventually caught up with him. It was then, that he was recommended SSAFA to go to for some help.

“It was two years after the accident, I got pretty sad.

“Initially straight after the Isla died, I would talk to everyone, loads of friends and run it through with them, and I felt like I was being really open so I didn’t need additional help. But some friends and my boss said, 'It will eventually catch up with you, and it will hit you like a train.'

“One year after the accident, I remember everyone at work wrapping their arm around me, and saying, 'We know it's a tricky time of year, and we're thinking about you,' and that was really helpful. But on the two-year anniversary there was nothing, absolutely nothing.

“It’s not that I expected strangers or work colleagues to remember when my daughter died. It was just the fact that it felt like she was forgotten, and I think that just hit me and made me really sad.
And even with close friends, you can't spend every time you see them talking about your dead kids. It got to the stage where I felt I couldn’t bring it up, and I would tell myself I had to talk about something else instead.

“I said to myself, 'Now it may help to speak to a professional. SSAFA came at just the right time.

“I'd heard of them before, but it’s one of those things you get told about when you join the military, that as a 19-year-old bloke you don’t take much notice of. You only take notice once you need them. I didn't realise before that they provide this listening service, but I was told about it, so I reached out.

“I went to SSAFA and arranged an appointment with the lady, Jenna, in the office. She asked, 'Why have you come to see me?'. I said, 'Other people have told me to come here. I don't think I really need to be here, but I've come for a chat because other people said I should come for a chat.' But then, I sat down and told her the whole story, of everything that had happened, and I bawled my eyes out for at least an hour. It came from nowhere. I wasn't expecting to get really upset about it. It opened the floodgates, and was the point I was certain I needed proper counselling.

“Jenna enabled me to see a licensed counsellor, paid for by the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund. I asked the counsellor to fix me, and they said they couldn’t, but they can help me to understand myself a bit better and come to terms with the things that had happened. I had five or six sessions, and felt so much better.

“Even after Jenna had organised some counselling for me, and I went to see a professional, I still went back once a week to chat to Jenna. Sometimes just to vent. It was really nice. She was very easy to talk to, and she really listened. She was there for that very reason, and there was no need for me to put pressure on myself to ‘lighten the mood’ or have banter. I was allowed to feel how I genuinely felt in each moment.

“Collette was all for me getting help too, because she had counselling through the insurance and it really helped her. Because I wasn’t in the car when the crash happened, I wasn’t entitled to anything. I wasn’t there, I didn’t matter.

“I carried on speaking to Jenna for some time but stopped in 2018 because I felt much better in myself and was coping well. But I know that if I ever needed support again that I could go to them. And I would.

“I've got massive respect for what SSAFA does and I wouldn't hesitate to encourage other people to use them. And I appreciate the people who support SSAFA and donate to them too so people like me can access help when we need it most.”

Life for us has changed and progressed again

“Collette and I met at school when we were 12, and we've been together since we were 16. We've grown up together. We're really strong. We've got the same opinions on pretty much everything. We talk a lot. I think we help each other out.

“Now, life for us has changed and progressed again. We've now got another littler girl, Taryn who has just turned three. She’s incredible, and similar to Isla which is good and bad.

“Though she doesn’t fully understand, we do talk to her about Isla. At first, she would look at pictures of our little blonde girl and say ‘that’s me’. We try and explain it’s Isla, but young children don’t always get it. We did seek advice on how to tell children that someone had died, but she comes out with some things now and then that absolutely break your heart. She'll see a photo of Isla holding a toy that she's now got, and say, 'Isla's got my toy. Give it back' or she'll say, 'Where's Isla gone?'. As she gets older, we'll tell her more of the story.

“Taryn is brilliant though. We weren't planning on having another child. I think the initial reaction was, we’re done. That was a trauma. But a few months later we decided that in the future it was something we might want again, and then we found out relatives of ours couldn’t have children, and we didn’t want to wait in case we found ourselves in the same position.

“Life though difficult at times, in general is really good. I still don't sleep very well, and I probably never will again. But I know that I have wonderful friends and family, a great support network and I have Collette. Nothing could ever happen to us that would break our relationship and we know that now. We're both really happy.”