An Army veteran is recovering at home following a heart transplant during the coronavirus pandemic but is unable to see his young sons as they may pose a risk to his health.
Phillip Hardwell, 32, served with the Royal Artillery but was medically discharged in 2018 after being diagnosed with a heart condition called Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy (ARVC).
His condition worsened in February last year and a heart transplant became his only option, with Mr Hardwell transferred to the Royal Papworth Hospital in December.
He last saw his sons Reggie, seven, and Luca, two, during a hospital visit in February.
Mr Hardwell underwent a heart transplant on April 8 and returned home to Bristol later that month but is still unable to be reunited with them.
It is hoped that Mr Hardwell will be reunited with son Luca in a few weeks, though it is unclear when he will be able to see Reggie as his mother is a key worker.
“My wife Roxanne has been caring for me, and so we haven’t been able to hold them in weeks,” Mr Hardwell said.
“They have been staying with a registered key worker childminder.
“The closest I have been to them is seeing them from a distance through the back garden.
“It’s tough for them when all they want is a cuddle from their mum and dad.
“It will be like that for a couple of weeks until my immune suppressants work and there is less of a risk.”
Mr Hardwell joined the Royal Artillery aged 18, undertaking two tours of Afghanistan as well as serving in the Falklands and Norway.
He discovered he had an irregular heartbeat in July 2016 and diagnosed with ARVC – the same condition his mother had died from – in 2017.
Later that year, he was fitted with a defibrillator and was medically discharged from the Army in 2018.
After his condition worsened, Mr Hardwell reached out to his local branch of SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity, for support.
The charity was able to arrange funding for travel and accommodation for Mr Hardwell and his wife, 26, during his treatment, meaning she could stay in Cambridge with him.
“They secured funding for her food and accommodation so she could be there with me day in and day out until she was forced to stay away because of Covid-19,” Mr Hardwell said.
“She kept me going. Without her I am not sure if I would have made it as far as it did.”
Alan Thomas, a volunteer caseworker with SSAFA, said Mr Hardwell and his family were in the charity’s thoughts “constantly”.
“They are a brilliant couple who have been through an extremely difficult and stressful time but have come out of it fighting,” Mr Thomas said.
“We are so glad Phillip is doing well, and when they are reunited with their children this will be a truly happy ending.”