A former RAF paramedic who suffered a severe spinal injury whilst on duty has been accepted into Cumbria University after educational help from military charity Help for Heroes.
Karen Burrows, 42, from the Cotswolds, will begin a BSc (Hons) University course in occupational therapy starting in September, after finally passing her maths GCSE thanks to help from Help for Heroes Recovery Centre, Tedworth House.
Karen, an RAF paramedic for 20 years, saw frontline conflict in Northern Ireland, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan before was injured in November 2007 whilst responding to a medical emergency on frontline Helmand.
She suffered a severe spinal injury, leaving her now reliant on her wheelchair and was later also diagnosed suffering with complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. After numerous spinal operations and years of physical rehabilitation, she was eventually medically discharged in 2011 and first approached Help for Heroes in 2012.
“Once I was medically discharged, after feeling isolated alongside the constant physical pain and nightmares, I quickly came to the realisation that I needed help,” she said. “I didn’t leave my house in months and my injuries, traumas and pain were all I had in my life.
“I decided I didn’t want to exist anymore and not finding help from anywhere else, I called Tedworth House in complete crisis and that call saved my life.
“I needed to find a new purpose in life, one to feel proud of again and make a difference to others once more.”
Karen knew one day she would need a new profession but after leaving school with no Maths qualification, it was a big difficulty to overcome.
“There was one last hurdle to jump over first – numbers,” she explained.
“I always struggled with Mathematics at school but managed to get by with the ‘basics’ required for serving. This was something I had to get over once and for all.”
Karen said she owed her success to Steve Burrows, Functional Skills Tutor at Tedworth House, who tutored her to pass the exam.
“I served 20 years in the military but learning Maths all over again and sitting the exam was the scariest thing I have ever confronted,” she added. “I would rather get back on the frontline than be faced with a page of numbers,” she said.
“I felt ashamed of my inability to work with numbers at my age, but Steve was somebody who finally made me relax and realise it was possible to succeed in Maths. He was so patient and without his unique teaching skills I would not be starting this exciting new chapter in my life.”
Karen said a huge weight has been lifted off her shoulders after passing the exam and cannot wait to start her course at Cumbria University, where she will be moving with her Canine Partner, Parker.
Her end goal is to work with veterans to help them cope with the same traumas, both physically and psychologically, that she has dealt with since her injury.
“I have so much to give back,” she said. “I have picked up injured and dying guys from the front line so to work alongside them as an Occupational Therapist would bring me back full circle.
“My injuries do not define me completely anymore. I have now been able to draw a line in the sand and I’ve taken the biggest step to get over it and I’m attempting to leave the loss and traumas behind me.
“I can now see a light at the end of the tunnel I’ve been stuck in for a long time and a happy ending is in sight at long last.”
Giles Woodhouse, Centre Manager at Tedworth House, said everyone involved with Help for Heroes were extremely proud of Karen and wished her well for her university course.
“Leaving the military and finding a new direction can be daunting especially for those who are living with life-changing injuries and illnesses, but H4H recognises that they remain highly skilled and capable individuals with a huge amount to contribute to society,” he said.
“We aim to inspire and enable those who have made sacrifices on our behalf to achieve their full potential. This has clearly been achieved with Karen who has fought a personal battle for many years and now has a very positive future ahead of her.”