James Wilkinson, 30, from Sherburn, North Yorkshire, was a Lance Corporal with the Royal Army Veterinary Corps. He was critically injured in an IED explosion during his third tour of Afghanistan on June 16, 2011. After being medically discharged from the Army in 2014 the father-of-two now runs a dog hydrotherapy business with his partner Rebecca, a veterinary nurse.
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“We were on a foot patrol and I was the second man on the patrol working the dog, going through open fields and then through ditches. There was a blast from the bottom of the bank. It hit six of us but me and the sergeant were critical.
“The IED happened at about 6.30am and I was in surgery at Camp Bastion by 7.10am. I wouldn’t be here now if they hadn’t got me out so quickly. Shrapnel had severed my femoral artery, the main vein and artery in my left leg, my abdomen and my hip had been compromised. It was just one of those things.
“My dog was fine fortunately. The guys were able to get him back to the compound where we were living. Out there you are one-on-one with the dogs so you get a really close bond and a good working relationship with them.
“After that I was in a coma for about a week-and-a-half but from what I have been told they flew me out the following evening and I was back in the UK at Queen Elizabeth Hospital on the June 17.
“I stayed at SSAFA’s Norton Homes a few times, both the one at Selly Oak and the one at Headley Court. I started my rehab in August 2011 and wasn’t discharged from Headley until July 2014 so it was a long time.
“My family used the Birmingham house and I also stayed there one night when I had to go back for some surgery. After that we stayed at the home at Headley Court numerous times. Headley Court is a four-and-a-half hour trip from home and when I wasn’t so mobile it was a long journey for me. Having the house there meant my family could come down and use it to visit me which made a huge difference.
'I knew that my Army career was coming to an end and I had an idea of what I wanted to do thanks to all the rehab I went through. I had a lot of hydrotherapy at Headley so I knew how good it was. My partner is a veterinary nurse so we thought, why not do something similar for dogs?
“We started in September 2014 and had around 10 dogs swimming that first year. In our second year we were up to 40-45 dogs a week which is great.
“I still have really bad back pain daily but that's just part of life now. I will also need a new hip every 10 to 15 years but other than that I'm as good as I'm going to get.”
James and Rebecca have since been assisted by a caseworker from SSAFA’s North Yorkshire Branch who was able to provide a fridge/freezer and a dishwasher for their new home.