Step by gradual step the trauma of the violent Afghan bomb blast that left Ben Parkinson in a four-month coma and nearly claimed his life is being conquered.
As his arduous journey continues, Leeds clinicians have issued Britain’s most injured surviving serviceman yet another health boost in his bid to defy the odds.
The 30-year-old former paratrooper, from Doncaster, is on a long rehabilitative journey after the Land Rover he was travelling in hit a Taliban mine in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, eight years ago.
The explosion broke his back in three places and punctured his lungs. Every single rib was broken, his spleen was ruptured and his cheek, nose and jaw were smashed.
Debilitating brain injuries robbed him of his speech after he spent months on life support, during which surgeons removed both of his legs below the knees.
But the defiant ex-serviceman has amazed medical professionals with his progress in learning to walk and developing his speech, with a course of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy in Edinburgh associated with his miracle recovery.
And while the brain injuries Ben suffered affected both his speech and swallowing abilities, he has rallied and progressed from liquidised to solid foods although his family had concerns he could be in danger of choking or aspirating food.
Experts at Spire Leeds Hospital, in Roundhay, have given him videofluoroscopy treatment, which assesses swallowing under x-ray. It showed that despite the trauma, his swallowing action is safe.
“It’s such a relief and very reassuring,” Diane Dernie, Ben’s mum and full-time carer, said. “When Ben was injured doctors expected he might not be able to eat solid foods again, yet he was determined and gradually progressed from liquidised food to eating solid foods with care, although he still experiences some difficulties when drinking. The assessment provided us with evidence showing that Ben is not in danger.”
The procedure, specifically tailored for patients with trauma and neurological conditions caused by stroke and brain injury, takes around half an hour and involves the patient sitting upright while scans are taken as liquids of varying consistencies are swallowed.
Spire Leeds is the only private facility to offer the treatment in the north of England.
Judith Scholefield, specialist neurospeech and language specialist who has worked with Ben’s speech improvement for the last four years, performed the procedure with consultant radiologist Dr Damian Tolan.
Ms Scholefield said: “We were concerned in case food and liquid Ben was swallowing was going into the lungs. The assessment showed that his swallowing is safe and we identified how we can put strategies in place to further improve the safety of his swallowing.”
Ben is continuing to undergo Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy four times a week to help rebuild muscle and tissues, while the work with his speech therapist has seen him overcome paralysis of his soft palate to learn to talk understandably through moving his throat.
Ms Scholefield added: “Ben is the most determined and motivated person I’ve ever dealt with and I think that’s the main driving force for what he has achieved during his recovery.”
CONTINUING TO PUSH HIS OWN BOUNDARIES
His courage knows no bounds and has inspired injured former service personnel far and wide to achieve great things.
Intent on pushing himself as far as he can, Ben Parkinson, who was awarded in MBE and chosen to carry the Olympic Torch in 2012, will join five other ex-soldiers in kayaking 465miles down the Yukon River in Canadian Alaska in September.
The fundraising exercise will support the Pilgrim Bandits military charity, for which Ben is an ambassador patron. The organisation aims to inspire wounded soldiers to live life to the full and also stages talks in schools and colleges.
Ben’s kayaking challenge comes after his completion of several parachute jumps, a 90mile kayak up the Gironde River in France and an expedition in the Arctic.