Members of the Armed Forces community from across Leicestershire and beyond united as one to help a Melton man and ex-serviceman suffering from a very rare neurological disorder.
Thomas Agnew (61), of Tamar Road, was diagnosed with Locked-In Syndrome in 2013.
Sufferers are aware and awake but cannot move or communicate verbally due to complete or near complete paralysis of the muscles in the body, except for the eyes.
At some point in his life Thomas, who is bed-bound due to his condition, will become ‘permanently locked’.
He said: “Attacks can come on at any time and can last up to six hours. The longest episode I’ve had in lock-in is five days.
“When I was admitted to hospital in May this year I had an episode where I became totally unresponsive and died and had to be resuscitated by the doctors and on-call staff.”
At the age of 17 Thomas joined the Royal Artillery and later served in Northern Ireland for four years as a dog handler.
Thomas, who also served at Melton’s Defence Animal Centre and earned three medals during his years of service, came out of the Army in November 1987.
As a result of the amount of care Thomas needs, his garden had become over-run, sparking a campaign to get it tidied up for him and wife, Dorothy.
After hearing of Thomas’ plight the Veterans’ Association got in touch with Leicestershire-based charity Once We Were Soldiers (OWWS), which provides support for former serving members of the British Armed Forces.
Andy J Spiers, who is involved with the charity, issued an appeal on Facebook to get help for Thomas. Among those to respond to his call to action was Old Dalby man Carl Pheasant, who is involved with the UK-based motorcycle charity the Armed Forces Bikers (AFB), which aims to assist former serving members of the Armed Forces in charitable need.
Carl helped get the ball rolling by appealing for volunteers to get together to work on Thomas’ garden on Sunday.
About 15 people rolled up their sleeves and got stuck into various tasks over a period of about five hours including tidying up the front garden and mowing the lawn, doing the edging and weeding, cutting back foliage, putting gravel down by a footpath and a team effort to move a shed from one side of the back garden to the other as well as pushing an old car into a new position in the back garden.
Carl said: “Thomas is a friend of mine on Facebook. On extremely rare occasions, and only with assistance from his carers and family, he can just about get to his own back garden but, as a result of the amount of care he needs, his garden had become over-run so we just wanted to help and make it a bit easier for him and Dorothy.
“It was a really good day. There were people helping from all over Leicestershire, Cambridgeshire and one, Robert Baillie, who served with Thomas and who travelled from Clacton-on-Sea. Another man who served with Thomas in Northern Ireland was prepared to come all the way from Lockerbie in Scotland to help.
“We got everything done we wanted to. We just need to wait now for the extension to be done for Thomas then we can get back in and finish what we have started.”
Thomas said: “I’d like to thank Carl and his helpers from the Armed Forces Bikers and the Once We Were Soldiers group for the jobs in my front and back garden. I’m really impressed - I can’t thank them enough.”
Thomas’ son, Jamie, added: “I would like to say what an amazing job the guys from the Armed Forces Bikers and Once We Were Soldiers did at my mum and dad’s. It was absolutely fantastic and my heartfelt thanks go to everyone who helped.”
Earlier this year grandfather-of-three Thomas was granted planning permission to build a side extension to his home, something he still desperately needs as he says he ‘can’t bear living downstairs anymore’ without it.
A bid for funding towards the extension remains in the hands of the Royal British Legion head office in London, with its decision eagerly awaited.
Applications have also been submitted to the BBC programme DIY SOS in a bid to get some help with Thomas’ much-needed extension.