Hollie Hardwick, from Plymouth, was 17 when she was told to make her way to Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham to say goodbye to her dad. She had just landed at Heathrow Airport having competed for England at an international sporting event in Norway.
Gary Hardwick, 59, was working with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, a service he joined after an 18-year career in the Royal Navy, aboard a ship in the Caribbean when he developed pneumonia in 2013. He had been unwell for some time but continued his duties as the ship was on operation. Gary became so ill that he was medically evacuated. In the UK he spent seven months in the hospital, four of which he was in an induced coma, and was resuscitated three times. Against the odds, he pulled through but has been left with acute respiratory distress syndrome resulting in 50% lung capacity and mobility issues. More recently he has been diagnosed with PTSD.
Almost overnight teenager Hollie had to grow up. She became a carer for her dad, helping him eat and shower while her mum was at work.
Hollie said: “I was 17 at the time and I had to grow up instantly. I managed to pass my A-levels but with the stress at home, I’d go in not sleeping. I lost about two stone in weight in the eight weeks he was first poorly.
“I felt quite helpless and I didn’t know whether I’d have a dad to come home to or whether I was going to say my final goodbyes to him."
“When he first came home he couldn’t even make a bowl of porridge. I’d help him in and out the shower, which was quite undignified for him but it needed to be done.”
Gradually Hollie became very down and was diagnosed with depression.
Hollie explained: “I became depressed in 2014 a week before my 18th birthday because of everything that had gone on. I felt I couldn’t do anything more to help dad and I’ve only just started to get my confidence back.”
Gary added: “Hollie seemed to have handled it quite well but later on the cracks started to show. She has suffered from depression and has had suicidal thoughts. We approached Help for Heroes staff as I was already receiving support from them and she’s since had a lot of help from the Recovery Centre.”
Three years on, Hollie, now 21, is working as a full-time professional carer, and regularly takes part in activities offered by Help for Heroes at its Recovery Centre in Plymouth with Gary.
“We live life how we live it now,” said Hollie. “He’s more like my best friend than my dad because we play rugby together, we go out on walks together, we just have a laugh.
“Confidence-wise he’s come out of his shell. He used to be quite enclosed, but he now talks about his problems and I talk about my problems with him and the same for my mum. We sit down and we talk as a family. I think it’s brought us closer together, but also gave dad the independence that he needed to get back to where he was.”
Hollie is keen to make others who may be in a similar situation aware that support is available if they ask.
“If Help for Heroes wasn’t here I don’t think me and dad would be where we are. If you are feeling down and you feel the same way that I did there is help out there. It’s not just for your loved one it’s for the whole family. Try and seek the help rather than wait for it to come to you because we sought the help and it has helped us a lot.”Get in touch with Hidden Wounds