When a soldier is injured in the line of duty, it is not just their life that is changed forever. The impact on their families can be just as great – which is where a specialist Service support group comes into play…


WHEN Layla Leach’s partner, Lionel O’Connor, suffered multiple injuries, including losing his left leg above the knee, while serving in Iraq, it wasn’t just his life that changed forever. His family’s lives were also turned upside down.

It was through the Help for Heroes’ Band of Sisters, a support group for families of Service personnel and veterans who have suffered life-changing injuries or illnesses, that Layla realised she was not alone.

By attending a respite weekend at the Help for Heroes Recovery Centre at Tedworth House in Wiltshire, the soldier’s wife was able to meet others who knew exactly what she was going through.

She told Army&You: “The respite weekend meant so much to me and my family.

“Activities like these are so important for families of those who have been wounded, because it is one thing to email or talk to people on social media, but to meet them face-to-face makes everything all the more real.

“I find there are not many people who understand when you explain your situation; so it was amazing to just be able to be yourself and not worry about being judged.”

A bit of “me” time

One of the strengths of the Band of Sisters programme is the variety of activities on offer.

From arts and crafts to personal pampering, the respite weekends provide something for everyone.

Layla explained: “I enjoyed a jewellery making class, took part in a quiz and was lucky enough to have a very long overdue massage and was treated to having my nails done. I enjoyed amazing food and felt relaxed enough to have a giggle with the other Band of Sisters.”

Support to stay strong

With the majority of Layla’s time now spent looking after her partner and children and doing jobs around the house, taking a break from her daily routine provided her with an important opportunity to recharge her batteries.

She said: “It was so incredible to just think about me, without worrying about my to-do list.

“Lionel often says that if I’m not strong, he feels like he can’t be; so it’s important for families to take time for themselves, so they can go back home refreshed and ready to deal with life living with a severely injured loved one.”

In the aftermath of Lionel’s injury, Layla admits to having felt very alone, especially as she was not sure what help was available for people who find themselves in her situation.

It’s important for families to take time for themselves

But thanks to the Band of Sisters, she is now part of a network of like-minded people who can all help one another.

She added: “Previously I’d wonder whether Lionel (on his rare down days) was being the way he was because of me, or was I doing something wrong?

“Being in the Band of Sisters means you can talk to others who are in the same situation and give each other advice and reassurance.

“I can’t thank them enough – they all put so much love and effort into what they do and I couldn’t imagine how hard it would be without them.”

For more information, visit www.helpforheores.org.uk or email bandofsisters@helpforheroes.org.uk


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