Former Stevenage soldier rebuilding his life after mine explosion trauma
- Credit: Archant
AN EX-SOLDIER who lost his eye after a mine exploded in Afghanistan is starring in a DIY TV programme with a twist.
Stuart Mendelson from Stevenage, who had to have his eye removed after being hit by an explosive device, appears on Channel 5 tonight (Friday) in Construction Squad: Operation Homefront.
The TV series, which aired for the first time last week, follows four men and one woman who have served in the armed forces but have retrained in different professions.
They use their skills, as well as those from their careers in the army, to complete community projects across the UK.
Stuart, who lives in Wisden Road, spoke to the Comet about the show, his time as a land surveyor in the Royal Engineers, and the moment that changed his life forever in December 2009.
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The 30-year-old, who went to The John Henry Newman School and North Herts College, said he had “always wanted to be in the army but fell into an IT job”.
After a “brush with the law”, Stuart decided to sign up, joining the army in 2005 and becoming a Lance Corporal by 2008.
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A year later, he was sent to Helmand Province in Afghanistan where he was involved in the mine clearance infantry.
Speaking about the day he sustained his injuries, Stuart said: “We were patrolling in Helmand Province when unfortunately a colleague of mine stepped on an explosive device. I happened to be about five metres away from the blast. I remember as a kid accidentally being hit round the head with a cricket bat while keeping wicket, and it was the same feeling but a thousand times more painful. I had this sense that part of my face was missing.
“The guy who was patching me up said my face was ‘knackered’ but that I would be in the pub in no time. I think that’s what makes British soldiers what they are. There’s a sense of humour whatever the situation.”
Stuart was flown to the hospital in Camp Bastion, before being transferred to Kabul where a specialist performed an operation on both eyes.
After a long flight back to the UK, where he had to deal with excruciating pain caused by the changing air pressure, Stuart underwent further surgery at a hospital in Birmingham, before being told his right eye could not be saved.
Stuart was advised to have his eye removed, which has since been replaced with a prosthetic eye.
He said: “You know your own body and I knew from the beginning that I would lose my right eye. After the operation to remove my eye I woke up in theatre being in more pain than I can remember at the time of the accident.”
He added: “My prosthetic eye makes regular appearances when I’m drinking in the pubs in Stevenage – to some people’s dismay – but it’s a good party trick.”
Following his recovery, Stuart retrained as a plumber and worked at a Stevenage business for two years.
After being made redundant, he heard about Construction Squad: Operation Homefront and successfully applied to take part.
Stuart, who is now working as a surveyor, said: “It’s not just a TV show but hopefully it will encourage many people to get out there and help do something for their local community. It’s unlike any of these DIY shows with famous faces. It’s about five guys working hard and getting the job done.”
Alongside the show, which will see the second episode of six aired at 8pm, a website has been set up to encourage volunteers to help with other community projects.
For more information visit www.operationhome front.co.uk