A FORMER County Durham soldier who lost both his legs and several fingers in a bomb blast in Afghanistan says one-handed play has ‘become a lifeline’.
Mikey Keighley, 33, narrowly escaped death while on foot patrol in scrubland while serving with 1 Rifles in July 2011 in the conflict.
Mr. Keighley exploded during his second tour of duty in Afghanistan. He was ahead of his comrades, performing five-meter checks of the area around his body, when the IED detonated.
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He said: “I went flying in the air and then I hit the ground. The first thing I did was look at my right hand and I yelled “man down”. My friend ran and patched me up with tourniquets before I was airlifted.
“I joined the army at 19 and made my first tour of Afghanistan at 20, was injured at 21 and spent my 22nd birthday in intensive care.
“I was on life support for a few weeks and was paralyzed from neck to toe for months due to trauma to the nerves in my back. I had to stay in bed for months – that was the worst moment.
After initially being treated by medics at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan, Mr Keighley was transferred to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.
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He spent years being treated at Headley Court, the former Defense Medical Rehabilitation Centre, before his family turned to Help for Heroes when he was medically discharged from the army.
The charity’s ‘very badly injured’ team have helped Mr Keighley lead a healthy, independent life by funding suitable gym equipment to help him maintain his fitness, as well as bathroom adaptations and specialized modifications to his vehicle.
On his return from Afghanistan, Mr Keighley, of Shotton, County Durham, became a recluse after suffering complex injuries in the blast but says he now has a thriving social life after finding a controller that he can play with one hand.
Now competing with gamers around the world, he has a growing fan base on the streaming gaming platform Twitch, where he goes by the name MonkeyNooLegs.
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Not only has the 33-year-old found a new sense of social life, he recently raised almost £1,000 for Help for Heroes in his first charity Twitch tournament.
He was able to rediscover his love of the game after taking seven years to find a controller he loved – the Xbox version with four lower paddles on which he plays with two fingers and a thumb – and now plays daily against people around the world .
Mr Keighley added: ‘I was socially isolated but now I have this huge friendship group that I spend hours with, it just happens to be online. I never thought I would be friends with people from Australia and America.
“I would say the game saved me. When you’re having fun with the game, you don’t think about what’s going on in your life.
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“I used to sit in my kitchen with the music playing all day, just staring out the window. The game made me talk to people – that’s something I didn’t do outside of my family.
After finding a new hobby, the veterans’ goal is now to travel overseas to compete in an in-person tournament.
“It would prove to me how far I’ve come since my injury and what I can do. Without Help for Heroes, I would be a very sad loner. I want to spread it and create awareness that you can still play even if you don’t have both hands,” he said.
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