The inspirational story of amputee hero helped by Gordon Brown!
Falling over at no.10 is not a big deal when you’ve died three times on the battlefield, says veteran Derek Derenalagi.
He took a spectacular fall on the front step of No 10… but Derek Derenalagi just picked himself up and carried on.
Landing on your behind in front of the Prime Minister is no big deal when you’ve suffered such horrific battlefield injuries that your heart stopped three times and you were given up for dead.
Derek, 34, who lost both legs while serving in Afghanistan and now gets around on “bionic” limbs, has turned himself into a top-class ¬Paralympic athlete.
And he even managed to see the funny side while taking his tumble while visiting ¬Downing Street last week with former England rugby star Lawrence Dallaglio, as part of a delegation ¬promoting the charity Help For Heroes.
“I simply missed the step and lost my balance, then I felt myself going and burst out laughing,” says Derek, a private with the ¬Mercian ¬Regiment. “Luckily I ¬managed to fall on my bottom and didn’t do myself any harm.
“And Gordon Brown was wonderful. As soon as I went down he put his hand under my arm and was asking, ‘are you OK?’. I told him, ‘I’m all right, I’m used to falling, no ¬worries’.”
The only damage was a loosening of the joints on his titanium ¬prosthetics – the hi-tech limbs that were fitted after he suffered his horrific injuries nearly three years ago.
Fiji-born Derek, who had joined the Army in 2000, was caught in a huge ¬explosion while on patrol in Helmand province.
“I was conscious and could hear people ¬screaming and shouting. The vehicle was burning, ammo was firing all around,” he recalls.
“I was losing blood and couldn’t breathe. I looked to the sky and thought I’ll never see my family again.”
As well as having ¬terrible leg injuries, he had broken his back and was covered in dozens of shrapnel wounds.
In the field hospital at Camp Bastion his heart stopped three times – then he was pronounced dead and his body taken off to be cleaned up.
It was only when a medic noticed a pulse that the race began again to save him.
Derek went into a coma and awoke nine days later in the military unit at Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham, with his wife Ana at his bedside. His stumps were bandaged, tubes were in his mouth and machines were attached to his chest and legs.
It was Ana, 34, a former English teacher, who had to break the news to him that he’d lost his legs.
She says: “When Derek came round for the first time in nine days he was very woozy and confused and thought he was in Afghanistan.
“He was lying flat in the bed and could not see the rest of himself. He asked me to take his boots off as his feet were hot. I said, ‘my darling, you don’t have legs’. But he kept going on about it. He didn’t believe me.
“I got my camera out and took a photograph of him lying on the bed and said, ‘Look, you don’t have your legs’.
“His face was blank, he took a long look then called me closer and said, ‘well, if this is what has happened I give thanks to God I am alive’. I was in pieces, but he said, ‘it will be all right’. HE was consoling ME.”
Derek carries the photograph with him to this day.
“It is an encouragement now,” says Ana. “We look at it together sometimes and realise how far he has progressed. It’s a miracle. I love him more now than ever. We spend so much time together now. This has brought us so much ¬closer.”
Today courageous Derek, who has a 19-year-old daughter, Anna, is England’s leading double-¬amputee shot-putter and discus thrower – and is eagerly looking forward to the Paralympics.
“I represented Great Britain on the front line in the war zone. Now there is another chance to represent the country in the Paralympics,” he says.
And he has another ¬ambition too. “I’d like to try ice skating the same way that Heather Mills has on Dancing On Ice, but I’m not sure yet, it depends on the legs,” he says.
For the moment though, all his attention is on his shot-putting and ¬discus-throwing. He is put through his paces by coach Malcolm Wallace six times a week near his home in Bushey, Herts.
Malcolm says: “Derek is determined and has great ability. I can see him on the Paralympic podium.
“He never moans or complains. Sometimes you just cannot believe he is real.”
Derek, who still has to have sessions at Headley Court rehabilitation ¬centre, Surrey, used to love playing rugby – and his Downing Street visit was to publicise the Wasps v Bath game at ¬Twickenham on April 24, in which £1 from every ticket will go to Help For Heroes.
He has become an ¬ambassador for the charity. It will be needed, he says, for years to come for the casualties coming home from war.
“Every time I hear of someone who died or lost a limb it all comes back to me,” he says. “It is painful, but I don’t feel bitterness or anger.
“I don’t seek revenge or blame anyone for what they did to me.
“I’m ¬concentrating my energy on using my new legs because I decided from the start that it wouldn’t be right for my family to see me in a wheelchair for the rest of my life.
“My legs have gone, move on. There’s no point in thinking otherwise. I am not super-human, I do have some down times where I sit quietly and relax and play gospel music. Or I talk it through with my wife.
“I’m thankful I’m still alive. I always remind myself of that. I’m still alive, there are others who didn’t come back.”
He is still an imposing figure and people look twice at the strapping soldier with the false legs. Children in particular stare when they see Derek and his hi-tech limbs.
He tells them what happened. “I sit them down and say, ‘I am in the Army. I was in Afghanistan in the war. I was involved in an explosion. That is how I lost my legs’. Kids are seeing more and more people like me now. It has become part of life. And life has to go on.”