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Case Study - Serjeant George Norton

Strength of Mind

The below is an excerpt from Ian Forsyth’s photographic blog title Strength of Mind about his meeting Serjeant* George Norton at Catterick Personnel Recovery Centre.

The details of what happened to Serjeant* George Norton, 31, are a blur for him. The effects however are a daily reminder.

His patrol was crossing an irrigation ditch in Helmand Province in December 2011 when they came under fire from a single insurgent. A bullet ricocheted off the ground and struck George in the side of the head, knocking him to the ground.

After that he vaguely remembers the initial treatment by members of his patrol to keep him alive while he lay there in the dirt, but his only real memory is waking up in Queen Elizabeth hospital Birmingham with his mother standing at the end of the bed.

The single bullet has left him with brain damage, completely deaf in his right ear, and weakness down his left side. His recovery mission is mammoth, and has tested the strength, resilience and bravery of both George and his family.
He has had to relearn cognitive skills, visual and auditory processing, and undergone speech therapy to allow him to talk again, whilst also having a cochlear implant and learnt to live with a blind spot in the top left of his vision. He suffers memory loss, and has to fight through the physical pain and mental barriers in his recovery.

He has fought the frustration and anger that comes from being injured and having to rely on others.

Today, after a year of medical treatment and pure determination, George is working on his recovery at the Personnel Recovery Centre (PRC) in Catterick. The PRC is preparing him for leaving the Army. His medical rehabilitation will continue as and when required through appointments at civilian hospitals. But every day he gets better. Stronger. Better adapted to his own unique and hugely different situation.

As George makes the move into civilian life he hopes to work as a volunteer with BIRT the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Trust so that he can pass on his own very first hand experiences and knowledge to those who for one reason or another are undergoing treatment for various brain injuries themselves.

The time he has spent at the PRC in Catterick will give him some of the skills and knowledge to assist with a successful transition into civilian life. The courses at the PRC are available to all wounded injured and sick military personnel. The idea behind the courses are that they give the soldiers the best opportunity to deal with that major life and career changing events that come with leaving the Services.

As I met George over a few days at Catterick and chatted to him about his military career, the events leading up to what happened to him, and what he hoped would be ahead for him it was indeed a testament to the medical skill of all those involved that today George is able to have a chance at doing some of the things he is now trying to achieve. From the staff at the PRC in Catterick for their dedication and commitment to their work to help him make as near full recovery as is possible and enter civilian life, to the specialist doctors and nurses who took care of him through each stage of this journey through the QE and Headley Court. There are also the physiotherapists who constantly worked with him to try and improve his physical strength, the medical personnel at Camp Bastion – the doctors, nurses and the RAF helicopter crew from the MERT – the Medical Emergency Response Teams – who flew in to evacuate him and of course to his mates who gave immediate first aid.

But ultimately it is a real testament to George and his family.

Suffering an injury like this must have destroyed his world and the journey he has been on to get where he is today, to put that world back together again, must have been a roller-coaster of emotions and challenges. A journey with more highs and lows, on so many levels, that we can only imagine.

To have the determination – the strength of mind – to keep going through that rehabilitation process must have been an incredible challenge and ultimately for George the greatest of personal achievements.

* Rifles Battalions spelling of Serjeant is with a ‘j’ rather than ‘g’

Read Ian's Strength of Mind article in full.

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