Co Down amputee father-of-three Robert Maxwell was left in agony and with PTSD after a horrific traffic accident. He reveals how a pioneering treatment has changed his life and how his new charity can help others.
An ex-Army corporal who was left for dead after a motorcycle crash that robbed him of his arm, his marriage and almost his life, is now finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel thanks to a device originally developed to help injured horses.
Clough father-of-three Robert Maxwell (50), who served with the Royal Irish Rangers, was knocked off his motorcycle in a hit-and-run incident while on his way to meet friends in Newry in 2004.
Left for dead and with catastrophic injuries, Robert had to undergo arm amputation surgery and was left heavily medicated and in chronic pain.
The pain led to sleepless nights and the lack of sleep caused stress and depression, resulting in the break-up of his marriage.
Diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) — symptoms of which include disturbing thoughts, feelings or dreams, and mental or physical distress — Robert could see no way forward.
He spent two months in hospital after the accident and for the next three years struggled with chronic pain.
By 2007 he was relying on the strongest painkillers available just to get through each day and, at his lowest point, even contemplated taking his own life.
He recalls: “There were times when I questioned whether or not I deserved to have a heartbeat and the only thing that kept me alive was the thought of my children standing over my grave crying. I couldn’t bear the thought of that,” he says.
“I was taking so much medication that when I went to sleep I could see dead people sitting on my bed talking to me.”
Fastforward to today and thanks to a unique new device Robert read about in a newspaper, he is not only pain-free, but has gone on to set up a new charity to help other injured veterans — Let’s Do Events Veterans Support charity.
The health device, called Arc4Health, is a unit which uses Microcurrent Therapy to promote faster healing and help with pain management.
In its early developmental phase when Robert first used it, the unit was in a prototype stage having been developed after its successful use on injured horses. The device had proved effective in helping the animals rehabilitate and return to competition as well as everyday exercise.
Robert contacted the company and asked if he could give it a try; nothing could be worse than the side effects of the multiple medications he had been prescribed.
He was one of the first people to put it to the test and has since helped the company to further develop the device for easy use.
Not only did he notice almost immediate relief from pain, but for the first time in three years was able to once again enjoy a peaceful night’s sleep.
Within just weeks of starting to use the device daily, he visited his doctor and asked to be taken off all the pain and depression medication he had been taking, which included gabapentin, diamorphine (an opiate-based drug) and fluoxetine.
“The combination of anti-depressant medication and painkillers had left me feeling like a zombie and unable to concentrate,” he says.
“I was really at rock-bottom when I heard about Arc4Health. My health was poor, I was on lots of different strong meds, my marriage was breaking down and I regularly considered suicide.
“It is with huge regret that my marriage collapsed at that time and, unfortunately, there is no way back.
“I was dealing with a lot. My injuries were complex and no amount of pain medication seemed to touch the pain.
“I had a head injury, high arm amputation, complex nerve injury, difficulty walking. I also regularly experienced debilitating phantom limb pain. My life was a battle. By the time I discovered Arc4Health, I had nothing left to lose.
“I phoned the company who sent out a unit for me to try. The units now cost around £240, but I was a bit of a guinea pig for them as it was still being trialled on humans.
“Within four days, the pain had reduced so much that I was able to sleep properly for the first time in years. This had a huge knock-on effect on my mental health; I felt able to cope with what life was throwing at me.”
Microcurrent Therapy has been used in Europe and America over the last two decades. It has been refined to such an extent that the method is generally regarded as a safe, convenient, effective and drug-free solution to chronic pain, such as backache, arthritis and sciatica.
The small company, Arc Family, carried out a five-year £150,000 research and development programme which adapted the cutting-edge technology for specific human use.
It recently gained full regulatory approval for use on people and is an EC certified Class 11a medical device.
The treatment works by kick-starting and accelerating many processes in the body involved with correct cellular functioning, resulting in faster healing and promoting optimal health.
Robert explains: “It is now so easy to use that you can attach it to your leg and walk around with it, although I use it at night while I sleep.
“I am now pain-free and only use it if I have a stressful day, as I have discovered that stress can trigger pain.
“The core genius of it is that it improves the immune system and repairs damage to cells and it really helped reduce my scar tissue and improved blood flow.”
Robert also underwent surgery to repair two nerves in his shoulder that had been left drooping due to a partial brachial plexus (a network of nerves that originate near the neck and shoulder) injury.
He used the Arc4health device after this surgery and was pleased with his quick recovery.
He says: “Arc4Health has put me back on track. By reducing my pain levels I have been able to sleep at night. With sleep, the world is always a little brighter. I have a clear head and I can think properly for the first time in years, partly because I no longer have to take any medication at all.”
Robert, whose 12-year Army career ended because of his injuries, was also kept going after his accident by volunteering in a pastoral care role offering peer support to injured military veterans.
And it was while working with disabled veterans that he had the idea for a new group — Let’s Do Events Veterans Support — which he set up three years ago. It was given charity status two years ago and has recently appointed its first trustees.
He says he is indebted to the support of businesses in the South Down area which helped get the charity off the ground.
Robert says: “It was an Army major who saw something in me and got me involved in Army welfare, which I did on a voluntary basis as, after the accident, I had to be pensioned out.
“It was about offering peer support and trying to establish what each person’s level of need was. I saw people who had been on medication a long time like I was and also the damage it was doing.
“I have also tried to reach out to other disabled veterans with Arc4Health and currently it is really helping a Scottish veteran who has a complicated spinal injury and another guy who had been shot in the back.
“Working with veterans I got to see others worse off than me and that made me realise that maybe I could fulfil a role after my injuries and give something back.
“I started to think about if I was going to set up a charity what I would do that would be most beneficial to injured soldiers.
“The charity aims to support disabled veterans on their road back to recovery. We create events which help to encourage disabled veterans to get involved in activities, growing in confidence while becoming comfortable with their disabilities.
“We try to organise an activity each day on the trips and even something as simple as having people of the same ilk sitting around the tea table can sometimes be the best form of therapy.
“We are not just a Northern Ireland-based charity but UK-wide and I want to reach out to the Republic of Ireland and the Commonwealth as well.”
Since Let’s Do Events Veterans Support started it has made contact with 200 disabled veterans and 70 have benefited from trips organised and funded by the charity for them and their families.
Robert adds: “Setting up the charity and now being pain-free has made me realise for the first time since my accident that maybe I could work again.
“A few years ago I never thought that would ever be possible but now I would love to get involved in events management.
“I am also keen to get word out about Arc4Health as I believe it definitely deserves to be rolled out to a bigger audience. It has transformed the quality of my life.”