WHEN Andrew Bull calls himself a very lucky man, he is not referring solely to his surviving horrific injuries 30 years ago in a bomb blast while serving in Northern Ireland.
The phrase also refers to meeting the love of his life in hospital early in a lengthy, painful recovery from wounds that left him blind.
For among the nurses who tended him at London’s Queen Elizabeth Military Hospital was trainee Nicola Walker.
Her dedication and caring nature struck a chord with the traumatised soldier from Blaenau Gwent as he faced the reality of life without sight.
Gradually, love blossomed between the bouts of surgery and rehabilitation Mr Bull endured following the explosion of an IRA device in the Falls Road, Belfast, in November 1983.
“I was 20 and, blind, I had a metal frame screwed into my skull to keep smashed bones in place, and I’d been peppered with shrapnel, some of which had slashed my throat,” said Mr Bull.
“Thoughts came racing in – am I going to be able to work, have relationships? I often thought, ‘who’s going to want to marry me?’ It was very isolating.
“Then I got to know Nicola. All the nurses were very kind, but she stood out immediately.
“The whole situation was new. I couldn’t see, so of course I wasn’t attracted to her legs, face or figure.
“I was attracted to her warmth, and kindness. I sensed straightaway she took her job very seriously, was very professional and cared an awful lot about what she did.”
After several months, during which Mr Bull says his now wife played a key role in his rehabilitation, he continued his recovery at a centre in Brighton run by the charity Blind Veterans UK, then called St Dunstan’s.
“The first weekend I was told I had a visitor and it was Nicola. We went for a meal and to the theatre and things went from there.”
The couple married in Mrs Bull’s home city of Portsmouth in September 1985. They now live in Ebbw Vale, and have four children.
“I’m a very lucky man, one, to have survived, and two, to have met a wonderful woman,” said Mr Bull.
“Without her support my life would have been difficult. She’s helped me overcome every obstacle.”
Blind Veterans UK, which aims to provide lifelong support, rehabilitation, training and recreation to blind veterans, has also played a key role in Mr Bull’s life.
At its Brighton centre Mr Bull learned Braille and touch- typing, helping him secure a job with Blaenau Gwent Council, where he worked for 25 years.
“Blind Veterans UK changed my life, and still helps me out,” said Mr Bull, who is backing its No One Alone campaign to help blind ex-service personnel of all ages.
“They always go that extra mile. The charity and Nicola are what helped me live a happy life again.”
l To find out more visit www.blindveterans.org.uk and www.noonealone.org.uk or telephone 0800 389 7979.