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“I have great fun at Halloween because I can fit into a small box on the porch and then pop up and scare the living daylights out of the kids!”
The UK’s first triple amputee, Mark Ormrod, had delegates in both fits of laughter and floods of tears during his truly inspiring closing address to IOSH 2013. Former Royal Marine Ormrod lost both his legs and an arm when he stepped on an improvised explosive device while on patrol in Afghanistan on Christmas Eve 2007.
Speaking against a backdrop on which was emblazoned the maxim ‘You can’t spell disability without ability’ Ormrod told the rapt audience, in graphic detail, about the incident that changed his life (see video below).
He had been out on a routine foot patrol in a team of eight when he stepped on the device. It was only when the huge cloud of dust created by the blast settled that he realised most of his legs had been blown off and that his “life, body and mind would never be the same again”.
He said: “My first thought was my daughter, who is now eight. Would the other kids make fun of her when her dad with no legs picked her up from school? I didn’t want to be a burden on anyone.”
It was at this point he had his first desire to kill himself. “I decided I wanted to shoot myself, but when I looked for my rifle, it was 15 feet away. And even if I could have reached it I couldn’t have used it because I then saw that my arm had shattered. I stared at it in disbelief and then I started to scream. . .”
Laughing now, Ormrod reassured the audience that it “wasn’t a girly scream” and went on to describe the journey back to base for medical attention – during which he almost fell out of the back of the truck taking him and had to be pulled back in by the femur sticking out of his leg.
He explained how he was actually left for dead when they arrived, as he wasn’t showing any signs of life, so the medics focused their attention on a less-injured colleague instead. Luckily, someone walking by saw his eye twitch and he was whisked into the operating theatre, where both legs were amputated above the knee and his arm above the elbow.
As compelling as his story had been up to this point, it was what happened next that really gripped the delegates. Three weeks into his recovery back at Selly Oak, in Birmingham, Ormrod was visited by a leading expert in amputation, who told him he would never walk again and that he would probably find prosthetics too hard to master also, so he might as well give up.
This prompted his second suicidal thought, but it was quickly dispelled by a meeting he had the following day with a fellow amputee, who “spent seven hours talking to me and explaining everything I could achieve”.
He went on: “I called all the physios and doctors into the room and asked them what I needed to do to learn to walk. Three-and-a-half weeks after I was injured I went to the gym to start my rehabilitation.”
Ormrod’s rehab programme was intense – “as a Royal Marine, I wanted to push myself” – but he needed a goal to work towards. “This was February 2008, and the guys in my unit were still out in Afghanistan. My goal was to be able to walk out on parade with the guys I fought with and receive my campaign medal.”
He decided that the things he needed to achieve that aim were as follows: self-motivation, commitment, dedication, determination, inner strength, and focus. He spent eight hours a day building his endurance and strength through the various stages – wheelchair (“very frustrating”); the ‘stubbies’ – small blocks on the end of his leg stumps; and finally, full-length prosthetics (“harder than Marines training – it takes 300 per cent more energy than a normal person just to stand on the spot”).
“As a result,” he said, “at the Medals Parade, I was able to walk on to the parade, stand shoulder to shoulder with my colleagues and collect my campaign medal.”
His next goal was to be able to walk down the aisle at his wedding, in May 2009, stand throughout the ceremony and take his wife on to the floor for the first dance. “Mind you,” he grinned, “I had to take the legs off after a few beers!”
Because he was the only triple amputee in the UK Ormrod didn’t really have anyone he could go to for advice in this country, so he got in touch with a man in the US, who had also lost both legs and an arm, but in a train incident. He started training over there, which, he said, “gave me the ability to do stuff I thought I’d never do: sky diving, DIY around the house, driving, even going on a rollercoaster!”
In 2010, he took on his biggest challenge, which was a charity run from New York to Los Angeles – 3563 miles! “When they asked me to take part,” said Ormrod, “I didn’t even know if I could run. But I learned and I did, and it took 63 days.”
By now, the sense of goodwill and admiration from the audience was palpable, and he signed off by saying: “I’m often asked if I am angry, or if I regret joining the military. My honest answer is no. I have been very lucky. I was 23 years old when I was injured and, up to that point, I had been privileged to undertake the career I wanted. I had then, and I still have, a great life.”
‘Great’ really is a ridiculously inadequate word to describe this inspirational individual.
In the video below Mark Ormrod describes the moment he stepped on the improvised explosive device.
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