Phillip Hardwell

Phillip, a Royal Artillery Veteran, explains how SSAFA helped when he was taken seriously ill, supporting both him and his family.

Phillip Hardwell

Phillip, a Royal Artillery Veteran, explains how SSAFA helped when he was taken seriously ill, supporting both him and his family.

Phillip Hardwell is a 33-year-old Royal Artillery veteran who knows from personal experience the impact SSAFA’s support can have.

The support we have received is so amazing. I know the charity will back me and my family no matter what, even if I am no longer in the military.

“I was just 18 when I joined the 29th Commando Regiment and undertook two tours of Afghanistan, as well as serving in the Falklands and Norway. It was a privilege to serve with such incredible soldiers. I could never have imagined that I would be out of the Army at 30 and fighting for my life.”

In 2017, Phillip was diagnosed with an inherited condition called Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy (ARVC) after undergoing an unrelated operation on a bicep injury. ARVC causes life-threatening arrythmias.

“I had been fitted with an internal defibrillator to restart my heart in case of sudden cardiac arrest. I hoped that this would allow me to continue soldiering, as I couldn’t imagine a life outside of the Army. In 2018, I was told that it was no longer safe for me to serve. The news came as a hammer blow.”

Unfortunately, his health took a devastating turn for the worse shortly after he was discharged and the only way forward was to have a heart transplant.

Phillip was transferred to the transplant unit at Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, where specialists fought to keep him alive while he awaited a suitable heart to become available, but the wait was long and the initial two day stay turned into 5 months. He explained, it was touch and go as to whether he would survive the wait:

“I suffered a collapsed lung and they had to hook me up to an ECMO machine for ten days to keep me breathing. Somehow, I managed to survive that, only to then suffer a bleed on the brain, which left me so weak that for a while a transplant would not have been impossible.”

Phillip was advised to reach out to SSAFA by his former Army colleagues shortly before he was admitted into Papworth Hospital. We immediately partnered Phillip with one of our trained volunteer caseworkers, Alan. This was the start of a close and life-changing relationship:

“Alan is a great man, who helped my family a lot. He treated me as a person, and when we didn’t have support from elsewhere, he helped us out. He was friendly, knowledgeable and gave me advice and support and went out of his way to help us."

I don’t think I could ever say thank you enough.

At a time when Covid-19 made life more difficult, it was critical that we were there to support Phillip and his family:

“Two weeks after my brain bleed, a suitable heart finally became available and I had my transplant operation. Thanks to SSAFA, my wife Roxanne was by my side before and after the operation, and I am so grateful for that. Without her I am not sure if I would have made it as far as it did but it meant being away from my young sons over Christmas and that was really hard.

"The spread of Covid-19 meant that I couldn’t return home to continue my recovery immediately, and I could only dream of the time when my immune system was deemed strong enough to allow me to hug my children again. This is why Christmas is so important to us this year.”

Phillip’s wife, Roxanne explains how they spent last Christmas;

"Last Christmas didn’t happen for us, it was a rush to hospital and a two day stay turned into a five months stay. It was not knowing whether Phillip would make it, that was really hard.

“Christmas means everything, it would have been the first Christmas that our son Luca fully understood what was going on.”

This year, Phillip, Roxanne and their sons are looking forward to a Christmas of making memories together as a family.

“I don’t think I could ever say thank you enough. It goes such a long way, if we can help other families have a great and loving Christmas, like we’re able to this year, they have helped us through our worse so we can have our best. If they can do that for another family, that’s amazing.”