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Ken’s story

Ken Thomas’s knee injury went untreated for years. This caused further problems with his other knee. It got so bad that he was in constant pain, dependent on prescription painkillers and depressed – he couldn’t see a way out. However, by funding and providing his knee surgery, King Edward VII’s Hospital Centre for Veterans’ Health helped him get back on his feet.

Old injuries

Ken Thomas is originally from the West Midlands, but lives in Carrickfergus – a large town in County Antrim, Northern Ireland – and his voice gives away this journey as he tells us his story.

“I served in the Staffordshire Regiment in Northern Ireland from 1971 to 1975,” says Ken. “I was then posted to Germany for 20 years. While there, I was medically downgraded because of a knee injury I’d sustained in Northern Ireland. This meant I was stuck as a junior NCO (Non-commissioned Officer) and couldn’t get upgraded. So I decided to buy myself out.”

The downward spiral

Once out of the military, Ken had surgery on his knee which involved the removal of his cartilage. However, because it had been 20 years since his injury, and had gone untreated, it had become arthritic so the surgeons worked to replace his knee.

“Then the other knee went,” he says. “I’d been compensating for my knee for so long that it had put so much pressure on my other knee. So now I needed the other knee done. And because of the way I’d been walking, I’d developed an arthritic ankle. I’d had two knee operations and both were painful, but my ankle was now in agony.

“I was in a lot of pain for a lot of years. I was crippled. I couldn’t walk. I was on co-codamol. To be honest, I should probably have been in a wheelchair. I went to the doctors here in Northern Ireland and waited two years to eventually get to see someone – though not a consultant – only for them to tell me the waiting list for surgery was six years.”

Ken is stoic, strong and matter-of-fact as he describes the hell of his journey: immobility and constant pain, and its impact on his state of mind.

“My life was a mess. I was living on co-codamol which helps, but I was still in agony. I was in a bad place in my head. I was suicidal. I thought about it and thought, ‘I can’t live with this’.”

 

The right direction

Not to be defeated, Ken went to a veterans meeting in Northern Ireland – something he’d never done before.

“I met someone from the Northern Ireland Veterans Association and asked if there was any support for people like us,” says Ken. “Could I get funding or expedite the process? He said it was impossible, but to try this charity, the Centre for Veterans’ Health (CFVH) at King Edward VII’s Hospital. So I did.

“The people at the CFVH looked at my situation. I provided a load of information and within seven weeks they phoned me and told me that I would be eligible for a full grant to cover the cost of the surgery.

“I was treated so well,” Ken continues – emotion clear in his voice. “Caroline (Dunne, CFVH coordinator) was amazing – she pushed the whole thing through. She was so kind and so helpful – I felt like I was being treated like a human being again and not just a tiny problem lost in a massive system.”

Ken applied in December of 2022. In February his surgery was booked for August.

“Then I get a call and they say they can do the surgery in May. I was over the moon.”

Orthopaedic surgeon, Lloyd Williams performed the surgery in May – “he was amazing as well” beams Ken before adding: “Everyone at the CFVH was truly amazing. Everyone went out of their way to make the journey as smooth as possible, and to make me as comfortable as possible.”

Getting his life back, one step at a time

We ask Ken: how are you feeling today?
“Great!” Ken beams again. “I’m off the cocodamol and I can drive again.

“I really can’t thank the CFVH enough. They’re a brilliant organisation and they really care. And because of them, I’ve got my life back.”

More information

  • If you are a veteran in need of support, or have any queries about the assistance we can offer you, please contact Caroline Dunne, Centre for Veterans Health Coordinator: cdunne@kingedwardvii.co.uk
  • Find out more and apply for a military grant
  • Did you know all Service or ex-Service Personnel (including reserves) without medical insurance are entitled to a 20% discount on their hospital bill. It also extends to their spouses/civil partners and includes widowers and widows.

 

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