Senior Aircraftman Liam Houghton, 31, sustained life-threatening injuries in a motorcycle accident in May 2014 and has been unable to work since. Liam, who previously worked in logistics at RAF Waddington, has undergone full spinal reconstructive surgery and has been left with short and long term memory problems. The father-of-one has been supported by Ali Butler of SSAFA’s Personal Support & Social Work Service. Liam was medically discharged in May 2017. He has taken up archery to assist with his rehabilitation and competed successfully at the Air Force Trials in the US. He also recently competed in the Warrior Games in the US setting multiple personal bests and carrying the GB flag at the opening and closing ceremonies.
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He said: “From the moment I was told the extent of my injuries in the hospital I knew my career could be over, even though I found it hard to admit to myself. The military has been my life since I was young. It’s the only thing I ever wanted to do. I was in the air cadets before I joined the RAF and used to work at the air show every year. I joined up in 2003. I was discharged due to an admin error in 2012 and was able to rejoin in April 2014 but three weeks later I had my accident and I’ve not been able to work since.
“Ali has pretty much been there since day one. She has gone above and beyond what could be expected for us and really fought my corner. The accident has had a massive impact, not only on my career but also our family life. A week before it happened we had found out that my fiancée was pregnant. I was in a coma for some time as a result of the accident. Danielle was initially told that I might not survive the night so she has had a lot to cope with. Since then I have had full spinal reconstruction and now have a metal framework in my back. I also had a collapsed lung and a brain haemorrhage which has left me with short and long term memory issues.
“The accident caused massive amounts of stress for both of us. I can’t do 90 per cent of what I was able to do before – either because of medication or the limitations of my injuries. Danielle gets extremely tired looking after both me and our daughter. She is having to do a lot of things around the house that I’m not able to help with any more. I used to be really outgoing and sociable but now I can’t cope with noisy environments with lots of people.”
Ali has liaised with the Unit Welfare Team at RAF Waddington and the Personnel Recovery Unit on Liam’s behalf to help him get the support he is entitled to during his medical discharge and transition to civilian life.
“Ali has been my biggest advocate since I was injured. She has always made the effort. I have had difficulties with transport and mobility and she has come to our home for a lot of our meetings as she knew I would be more at ease in my home environment. No matter how our mood has been she has always been able to find a positive for us. If you get in touch with Ali you know that within a couple of days she will have an answer for you. She calls to check on us and when I was at Headley she would come and visit Danielle at home. She even helped organise a bed for me. Because we have got a spiral staircase I could not get up and down the stairs so we got a single bed downstairs.”
Liam was admitted to Headley Court in November 2014 and he and his family were able to stay at SSAFA’s nearby Norton Home which enables families to have vital time together away from the hospital environment.
He said: “I had quite a few stints at Headley learning to walk again. The rehabilitation was amazing. I stayed at Norton House quite a few times and so did my family when they came to visit me. We had a brilliant time there. The first time Danielle and I went to Norton House it was for a weekend’s respite – up until then I hadn’t known it was there. The staff were so friendly and the house was amazing. Then my mum and dad wanted to come and see me as well and they were blown away by Norton House and the welcome they got. They absolutely loved it. My brother and his partner also visited me and we had a family get together. It was really nice for them to see the progress I was making but it was also good for me to be away from Headley. Norton House gave me some normality again. It was my home away from home. You could relax in front of the TV or cook a meal together in the kitchen. Headley was brilliant but when you wake up there, you’re waking up in a hospital and it made a real difference being able to get away from that for a bit.”
As part of his rehabilitation Liam was given the opportunity to take up archery and has since excelled at the sport. He said: “Before my injury my main sport was fencing. I also played badminton and rugby sevens, and I have been in the bobsleigh and luge team in the past. The metalwork in my body means I can’t bend, twist and lunge any more so fencing wasn’t an option.
“I was encouraged to take up archery last year. The action of drawing the bow strengthens your back and spine and also promotes core stability, concentration and breathing techniques. I had done archery before as my grandfather is into it. So I started with one of his old bows but when I had an email to say I was eligible for this year’s Invictus Games I realised the bow I was using was not competitive enough so H4H got me a full competition bow with accessories to get me started.
“Archery GB selected me for the Air Force Trials held at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas as a precursor for the Warrior Games and Invictus Games later this year. I came away with a bronze, silver and gold medal. Then at the closing ceremony I was honoured with the sportsmanship award from the other competitors which blew me away. The archery has been brilliant because it has given me a long term goal to focus on.”