Lucky to be alive

Private Stephen Bainbridge who was injured in Helmand on Armistice Day 2011
Private Stephen Bainbridge who was injured in Helmand on Armistice Day 2011
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“HE is very lucky to be alive.”

Those are the words which sum up the feelings of Kirkcaldy grandfather Alfie Bainbridge about his 25-year-old grandson Stephen who had both legs blown off below the knee when he stood on an improvised explosive device while on patrol in Helmand Province on Armistice Day.

Stephen, a private with the Black Watch, was believed to have been in a line of soldiers when he stepped on the device.

He took the full brunt of the explosion, losing both legs just below the knee and suffering other injuries to his hips, hands and buttocks.

Lifesaving first aid

Ironically, as Stephen was waiting to be transferred by helicopter to Camp Bastion for treatment, he was given initial lifesaving first aid by an old school friend, now Army doctor, Tom Blankenstein (27), who is also a former Balwearie pupil.

Stephen, who lives with his grandad and his uncle Scott Bainbridge (22) at their flat in Earn Road, when he is on leave, was on his first tour of duty and had been in Afghanistan for only seven weeks when he was injured.

He joined the Army last October after failing to find work locally, and planned on making it his career.

After being stabilised at Camp Bastion he was transferred to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham where he is expected to undergo months of treatment before being sent for rehabilitation.

Alfie (65), said his life had changed the minute he got the news about Stephen.

“When the two Army officials came to my door on the Friday morning I immediately thought the worst.

‘‘When they flew us down to Birmingham and we were taken into the ward where he was I just thought, from the look of him wired up to all these machines with tubes coming out of every part of him, that he wasn’t going to make it.

Operations

‘‘He is very lucky that he is still alive.

“He has undergone a number of operations and had to have a further part of one of his legs amputated as it became infected.

‘‘He faces further operations for skin grafts to his arm and leg and has also lost part of the fingers on his left hand, so he has a long struggle ahead of him.”

Family support

Scott, who described Stephen as “more like a brother” said he had been “gutted” when he heard of his injuries, but has been down to visit him almost on a weekly basis since.

“He has now accepted that he is unlikely to walk without help ever again, and is starting to make jokes about it,” he explained.

“He did take it hard to start with, but now just wants to get into a wheelchair and get on with things. He is a real fighter.”

Alfie and Scott are planning to spend Christmas with Stephen and say they will do everything they can to help him in the future.

“We know he will require 24-hour care, but if we can get him back to Kirkcaldy and get him accommodation we will be here to help look after him,” said Alfie, who himself served as a soldier with the Black Watch pipes and drums for 12 years, undergoing tours in Cyprus, Northern Ireland and Hong Kong.