A hero soldier who lost a leg after being shot by a sniper in Afghanistan has vowed to devote his life to fundraising for ex-servicemen’s charities.
James Cairns, 26, of Honley, suffered devastating damage to his right leg and, despite strenuous efforts by medics, the limb had to be amputated two years later.
James, a private with the Yorkshire Regiment, came under attack while out on patrol. He was flat on his belly firing at the enemy when a Taliban bullet came over his left shoulder and blew his right leg apart.
The horror injury happened on October 31, 2011 – Halloween – and James was airlifted to Camp Bastion where he underwent 16 hours of surgery and five blood transfusions.
Now James, a former student at Newsome High School, is fighting back on a prosthetic leg and set for a medical discharge from the Army on May 24.
After that James plans to raise money for ex-servicemen’s charities including Help for Heroes, SSAFA (Soldiers, Sailors and Airmens Families Association) and the Royal British Legion.
James said: “The Army has been absolutely brilliant – they couldn’t have done any more – and so have the charities.
“SSAFA is one of those charities people don’t really know about but they do some fantastic work without shouting about it.”
The medical discharge means James will draw a war pension and he also hopes to invest in student property to build an income.
“I’ll be a pensioner and war veteran at the age of 26,” he said. “But, hopefully, with the student accommodation I won’t need to work again. What I want to do is devote my life to the charities which have helped me so much.”
James is gearing up to take part in Tough Mudder Yorkshire, an obstacle course challenge in Skipton in August, and hopes to run the London Marathon next year.
His long-term goal is to compete in the Paralympics.
James underwent intensive treatment at Headley Court, the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre in Surrey.
He had a huge chunk of flesh removed from his left thigh which was used to repair his damaged leg.
He was left with a massive scar which proved to be for nothing as the nerve damage to his right leg meant it couldn’t be saved.
“The leg was just dying,” said James. “I had no feeling in it and it would have become dangerous to keep it.
“I didn’t have to lose it but the medical team said it was the best thing and it was my decision. They had tried everything.”
The limb was amputated below the knee on December 14, 2013 and it was a decision that gave him his life back.
“It meant I could have a prosthetic leg so I could run and walk again,” he said.
The Army also stepped in to spend £35,000 on adaptations to his home including an upstairs wetroom and downstairs toilet.
“The Army has looked after me amazingly well,” he said.
Losing his leg also brought an unexpected improvement in his mental health.
“I was suffering from mild post-traumatic stress disorder but I have got rid of that now,” he said. “I am not down anymore. It’s all about thinking positive.”
James, who is single, now wants a running blade – like those used by South African athlete Oscar Pistorius – but first he must strengthen the thigh muscles in his right leg.
He’s working hard on his fitness at a pal’s martial arts gym, Quannum2, in Slaithwaite.
James, who started running again five months ago, was always a fast runner and believes the blade could make him even quicker.
His ambition is to take part in the Invictus Games, an event for wounded or injured ex-servicemen, and eventually the Paralympics.
James is raising money for Help for Heroes at the Tough Mudder. To sponsor him, click here.