Read about Conrad Molloy who has been supported by Blesma

Conrad Molloy (he prefers to be called Molly) served with the Royal Anglian Regiment and was injured following an IRA bomb attack in 2000. He struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder and lived with severe pain in his left leg for many years before it was amputated in 2017. Being a keen model maker, a Blesma-funded craft shed has been hugely beneficial to his mental health.

Why did you join the military, and how was your early career?
I grew up in Peterborough and joined the Army straight from school in 1991, at the age of 16. My grandad had fought in World War II and was always talking about it, so I was very interested in serving. I joined the Royal Anglians and spent quite a bit of time on tour. I deployed to Northern Ireland three times and to Bosnia once. I enjoyed military life – doing something different every day rather than putting up with the same old nine-to-five job – and I was jumping in and out of helicopters all the time, which was fun!
Can you tell us a bit about your injury?

It happened in April 2000. I was based at Ebrington Barracks in Londonderry. The peace talks were going on, so we weren’t allowed out, apart from to protect the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) during riots. The IRA would attack us at the barracks by throwing bombs over the wall. One morning someone threw a device into the guard room. My bed was 30m away. You’re taught to get under your bed in a situation like that, and as I did that I smashed my knee on my bed box – a big wooden box with metal corners. It hurt
but we were cleared to a safe area, and then went out to try and find who had done it, so I didn’t get immediate treatment.

Because we were confined to barracks, I didn’t get to hospital – I was just given some ibuprofen. Unknown to me, my knee had twisted very badly. It swelled up, but I just cracked on. After I left the Army I got a job driving trucks. The pain wasn’t so bad when I was driving, but it hurt a lot when I walked and it just got worse. The doctors my leg – they tried to clean inside the knee and I even had a knee replacement – but nothing worked.

Mentally, it was a very difficult period. I was on morphine all the time, and I didn’t know where I was. I felt like there was no use in living – I was like a zombie. My wife and son tried to help me out as best they could, but the pain got too much.

During an earlier riot in Northern Ireland I had been set on fire. A petrol bomb landed on my head and it had taken a long time to put the fire out. I had also seen some awful things in Bosnia during the genocide. Those experiences gave me nightmares when I slept, but I would also spend a lot of time ruminating about things during the day. I had nothing to do and was on a downward spiral.

Initially, the amputation really helped. In October 2017, my left leg was amputated above the knee. I felt much better almost straight away. It only took me six weeks to get off painkillers, and I’ve not taken anything since. My life has completely changed. The PTSD has also been much more manageable since the amputation – I think the painkillers I was taking made that worse, and I got brilliant rehab at Bury St Edmunds hospital. I was up and about quickly, and for the last eight months I’ve been walking without a stick.

I was really into it as a kid, and have taken it back up. I became part of a charity called Models for Heroes, which I’ve still been able to do online during the pandemic. I like making models of WWII guns and vehicles, but I’ve also made a Challenger II tank, which won first prize in an online competition. I find it very relaxing; it helps me forget about my own problems.

Blesma funded your modelling shed, how helpful has that been?

It’s been incredible. It’s insulated and heated, and has electricity so I am able to use my tools. I can be in there most of the day – I put the radio on in the background and the hours just fly by!

Concentrating on something is very good for me. Because of PTSD my hands shake when I’m nervous. It gets better when I concentrate, and model making gives me a focus – it calms me down when I’m stressed. When I come out of the shed I am chilled out and am able to sleep better because I’ve had something to focus on. Since I’ve had the workshop, I’ve made more than 40 models; from battlefield dioramas to WWII tanks, and even a Star Wars X-Wing. My wife, Donna, is very happy that I’ve moved all my stuff out of the house – it used to be all over the place! Blesma has been great for me. I’ve taken part in one of its family glamping activities, I’ve been on a skiing trip, and have been to Members’ Weekend. It is one of the only charities that stays in touch with me to check how I’m doing. They always ask how they can help, and they’ve really helped me a lot already!

So life is much better now? It’s a 100% improvement from life before the amputation. I have even been ok during lockdown because I’ve been quite a happy shielding in my shed. I have a lot of ex-military friends who I used to meet with regularly before Covid, so hopefully, we can get back to that soon, and I can show other people how to get involved in model making.

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