Vet’s battle to stay alive aided by Heroes

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A Tadcaster veteran with PTSD and life-threatening heart disease is on a mission to stay alive.

For 13 years Paul Minton enjoyed sailing around the world as an Able Seaman in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, however, after witnessing violent incidents on board one ship he returned home and his mental health plummeted.   

When he was medically discharged, Paul swapped one life of adventure for another – he toured the globe with pop stars transporting their staging equipment and was snapped by Formula 1 fans at racetracks when he pulled up with a wagon full of expensive car parts after building up a successful haulage business.

But when he contracted flu which didn’t go away, it developed into life-threatening heart disease called dilated cardiomyopathy.  

“Being mortally ill with a disease that hasn’t killed you teaches you to appreciate life, it’s like living with a black cloud over you but wanting to play out in the rain,” says Paul.

He enrolled on a Veterans’ Welcome programme at Help for Heroes’ recovery centre in the North, Phoenix House based at Catterick Garrison in North Yorkshire, followed by a Health & Nutrition course - a decision that’s now helping to keep him alive.

Previously run over three days but now over five after feedback from beneficiaries, it educated Paul about food groups, taught him recipes and inspired him to make lifestyle changes that have had a massive impact.

“I really struggle with fatigue so what we were taught made me realise how much energy is in food. On the way home I bought a blender and protein powders and have been having a smoothie for lunch every day since.

“We were shown exercises in the gym for different abilities so now, even if I’m having a bad day, I can do something positive – you can’t outrun a bad diet,” explained Paul, 50, who’s been fitted with a defibrillator in his chest.

“Help for Heroes’ philosophy was live a better rather than live a perfect life - if you are damaged you can’t expect to be perfect and that has really stuck with me.

“Part of having heart failure means I have diabetes and so have to inject myself with insulin, before the course I was on the maximum dose of 80mg but now it’s come down to 67mg which is fantastic,” said Paul who lives with his long-term partner, Dawn, in Tadcaster in North Yorkshire.

He has also taken part in a beginners’ mountain biking course at Phoenix House and was awarded a grant by Help for Heroes to buy an electric bike.

“I’ve cycled lots of miles on it so far which isn’t bad for someone with a knackered heart. I can get very depressed as I was always at the sharp end of life, living it to the full. Having to slow down has been difficult for me, as I feel it’s a complete waste of life but cycling gives me that adrenalin rush and helps me feel good.

“My grand plan now to stay alive. I’m doing everything to avoid a heart transplant. When my PTSD was at its worst I tried really, really hard to end my life but now all I want is to live. 

“When I was an Able Seaman, I did try to return to work but once I boarded another ship, I balled my eyes out as I felt trapped and that broke me. Being a seaman is an identity. When PTSD happens, your first reaction is you have to build yourself back up to how you were before, but you have to forget that straight away, that jigsaw will never be the same again.

“I hated who I was before - I had very little compassion as I couldn’t forgive myself for failing but I like who I am a lot more now.

“I am not a victim. I own this. Everyone has to own their own life and not rely on others to fix it for them – if you want to change your life then change your life – it’s passing you by,” he added.

“My aims for 2020 are to get a new tv, continue to go Go Karting with Help for Heroes and Mission Motorsport and lose more weight. I would love another adventure too!”