Michelle Connolly

Michelle ran for SSAFA in the 2020 Marathon - to say thank you to SSAFA for helping her husband.

Michelle Connolly

Michelle ran for SSAFA in the 2020 Marathon - to say thank you to SSAFA for helping her husband.

When Michelle Connolly’s husband Fred, a former Royal Engineer, had multiple strokes at the age of 29, he was paralysed. Even though Fred was no longer serving, SSAFA was there to help the couple and their two young daughters, and make sure Fred was able to start living again. Now Michelle is taking on 26.2 miles for SSAFA in the London Marathon to say thank you and raise money for other veterans like Fred.

“No one expects something like that to happen to their family. Especially not when we were so young. When Fred had the stroke we didn’t know if he would recover. He had to have open-heart surgery, but before the surgery he had two more strokes that left him paralysed. He had one heart valve replaced and one repaired before he could start any physiotherapy. His whole recovery was intensive.  

“He was then left in a nursing home for a long time, which was the worst possible situation.

“When we were given the opportunity to move him to his own property, SSAFA stepped in to make that happen. They gave him back his independence and his life really.”

We thought it wasn’t an option for us because he hasn’t been in the Army for years

Fred suffered the stroke in 2007 and his mobility is restricted. He is unable to move the left side of his body so he cannot walk on his own, clean himself or cook for himself, and relies on carers and his family to help him.

Initially, the Connolly’s were offered a place to live together, but it was miles from home and their support network. With all the change in their lives, Michelle didn’t want her daughters to have to move schools or leave friends behind.

Two years ago, after years in a nursing home, Fred was offered a flat in a complex that housed other disabled ex-servicemen and women, through a different charity. SSAFA helped Fred move to his new but empty flat. They secured almost £1,000 in funds towards furniture, such as tables and chairs, to smaller necessities like cutlery. At the time, Michelle didn’t realise her family could access support from the charity.

“I wasn’t expecting the help. It was amazing, I don’t know how to explain it. We thought it wasn’t an option for us because he hasn’t been in the Army for years. Somebody said we could apply and they’ll help you and I just thought it’s not possible, people don’t just give you money for nothing but they came and they listened and they spoke to him and they made it possible. We were shocked. The support just made us feel that we’re still special and we still matter.

“Because of the stroke my girls lost their dad. It meant that dad wasn’t there anymore. He went from being this big Army guy that was always untouchable, to being disabled. We all thought he was untouchable. SSAFA sort of handed him back to them because now he’s so much more independent and so much happier.

“Without SSAFA he would have a house, but not a home. That’s what made the difference.

“Now I just want to be able to give somebody else that opportunity. I’m raising money so SSAFA can help another family the way they helped us.”

Without SSAFA we wouldn’t be where we are today

Michelle ran her first marathon for SSAFA in April and hopes to raise thousands for the charity.  She hopes others will donate and back her as she takes on the challenge.

“SSAFA are amazing. They’re a group of wonderful people that are always there. If you or anyone else you know needs help, please reach out to them.

“I didn’t know a lot about SSAFA before they supported our family, but now I have read so much about them and they do amazing work.

“For me they mean an awful lot because they’ve given us the opportunity to be a family again and for Fred to have independence. I am running for SSAFA because they gave my girls their dad back.

“If I could say something to SSAFA, the biggest thing would be thank you and to keep up the good work because without SSAFA we wouldn’t be where we are today.”