Reaching for the Sky

As the “war” in Ukraine continues following the invasion by Russia, there is a danger of compassion fatigue setting in, especially when wars and disasters are taking place in other parts of the world.

While not overlooking or forgetting the suffering across the globe, it is so important to remember the horrors being endured on an everyday basis in Ukraine.

We have always felt that Sir Douglas would have wanted to help the brave people – many civilians – who are fighting for the freedom of their country. So many emerge from the bombing and devastation in Ukraine with missing limbs or with limbs so badly damaged that there is no alternative to amputation. Sir Douglas would have wanted to support them as he supported amputees in his lifetime as a double amputee himself. Reaching for the Sky for others with disabilities.

This is why the DBF was proud to support the LSN Group’s first mission to Ukraine. (You can read about this on a previous post on the DBF Website via a link at the bottom of this page. Please note that all links in Nicholas’s blog will open in new tabs.)

Since then, the group continues Reaching for the Sky as it develops the ways it can support amputees as you will see below. The courage and commitment of the team is admirable and I’m delighted to be able to share this update from Nicholas Mellor. I thoroughly recommend that you take time to read the blogs to see just how much positive work is being done by LSN.

It’s moving to know that Nicholas’s connection with Douglas goes back a long way. When he was about 8 his grandmother took him to see the film, “Reach for the Sky” and it was then that Nicholas decided that he wanted to fly with the RAF. This is also why the title of the blog is important to him. With all he’s achieved under the auspices of LSN for amputees and people who are suffering mentally or physically particularly as a result of trauma, I think that Reaching for the Sky is a very appropriate title anyway! Interestingly, in 1993, Nicholas had set up Merlin (Medical Emergency Relief International) with 2 friends. Merlin was a humanitarian organisation delivering medical expertise, healthcare, and support in crisis and conflict zones around the world. Their first operation was in Sarajevo, which was then under siege, and the team felt as though they were ‘reaching for the sky’ in those early days.

Its that same spirit that I have sought to tap into, in every initiative I have embarked on, and it takes me back to walking out of the cinema with my grandmother all those years ago, when with both innocence and youth I imagined with sufficient conviction, perseverance and courage anything was possible! Nicholas Mellor

Reaching for the Sky

Reaching for the Sky

Ninety two years ago, in January 1932, Douglas Bader took to the air again just weeks after his accident in December 1931 which had resulted in the loss of both his legs. His determination and resilience were remarkable, as he quickly adapted to his prosthetic legs and pursued his passion for flying. 

Forty years ago the Douglas Bader Foundation was set up in him memory to ‘advance and promote the physical, mental, and spiritual welfare of individuals who are born without or have lost one or more limbs, or are otherwise physically disabled, as well as those who suffer from diagnosed mental illnesses’.

Last year LSN Group launched an initiative to support victims of trauma, particularly amputees, in Ukraine. The team’s efforts have focussed on various aspects of rehabilitation and support for these individuals, but what made every mission unique, is that members of the team have been amputees or disabled veterans themselves. No one knows the urgency of this work, nor can speak with as much authenticity and authority as people such as Alex Lewis, Mike Wildeman and Edward Hall.

As well as providing tangible support with medical supplies and prosthetics, the team has also sought to encourage change in practice and policy but beginning a dialogue around the benefits of  early intervention in the rehabilitation process. This can significantly shorten the journey to greater independence and improve the prognosis for the patients. A second aspect has focussed on the importance of a multidisciplinary approach to ensure integrated future care for the patients, and giving the patient the support and where possible, the prosthetics so they can remain proactive in their path to recovery. A health system that is overstretched, insecurity and a shortage of supplies make finding more efficient and effective approaches even more urgent, but at the same time, change is always difficult to manage.

The LSN team has also emphasized the importance of building independence for amputees, which is crucial in their rehabilitation journey. This includes enhancing the quality of life, increasing self-esteem, facilitating reintegration into society, reducing the burden on caregivers, and improving physical health. Emerging technologies in prosthetics are creating even greater opportunities for enhanced functionality and comfort. The team is also involved in initiatives to help amputees learn new skills, particularly in emerging digital fields, opening up new job opportunities. This approach not only aids the individual amputees but also contributes positively to the economy by filling labour or skills shortages in various industries and increasing workforce diversity.

The Douglas Bader Foundation have been a key part of getting LSN’s initiative off the ground, when they became a co-sponsor of the first mission to provide support for amputees in Ukraine. Their support reflected the foundation’s overarching mission to support individuals affected by limb loss and other disabilities, inspired by the legacy of Sir Douglas Bader, a renowned RAF pilot who returned to active service despite his own limb loss.

The initiatives by LSN Group and the support from the Douglas Bader Foundation (DBF) demonstrate a comprehensive approach to aiding amputees, encompassing physical rehabilitation, skill development, and psychological support and it is this holistic, and integrated approach than is so important to the well-being and empowerment of amputees in Ukraine. 

These series of blogs illustrated different facets of this approach from patient centric innovation involving DBF Ambassador Alex Lewis, to finding purpose with DBF ambassador Mike Wildeman .

However the scale and intensity of the trauma and injury faced by veterans and civilians alike shows that there is no easy solution and the support of organisations like DBF is crucial to encourage the search for better ways of supporting victims of trauma such as highlighted in these two blogs  and .

The challenge for the individual, their families, their communities and their society is enormous, but as the saying goes ‘ the longest journeys start with a single step’ and that first step for the LSN team was made possible by DBF, and the inspiration of the pilot who in spite of his disability, still ‘Reached for the Sky’.

Reaching for the Sky

(Nicholas Mellor)

Reaching for the Sky

Above: DBF Ambassadors, Mike Wildeman (left) and Alex Lewis (centre right)

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Ukraine Future Team Mission 2

We’re delighted and very proud to report that the Ukraine Future Team Mission 2 to that beleaguered country was another great success.

Ukraine Future Team Mission 2
DBF sponsored vehicles leaving the UK for Ukraine

You can find out about the first mission by following the link to the previous DBF post at the bottom of this page. The purpose of this 2nd mission was again to deliver soft prosthetics to amputee patients currently rehabilitating in Ukraine. Many of these patients lost limbs defending their country and are depressed and frustrated at being unable to continue to actively support Ukraine. Even if they’ve healed from their amputations, prosthetics are very difficult to come by in a country under bombardment and which has faced so much destruction and devastation.

Another service the team has provided for the Ukrainian amputees on both missions was one-to-one discussion with a fellow amputee for advice and encouragement. Quadruple amputee, DBF Ambassador, Alex Lewis, accompanied the Team on their first trip and amputee veteran, Edward Hall, took his place in the Ukraine Future Team Mission 2. Edward Hall was able to speak with the authenticity of personal experience as well as the authority of working with so many charities supporting veterans in the UK. Both were able to talk to the patients and encourage them through their own examples that there is life after amputation, and to talk with first hand information about different prosthetics. Soft shell prosthetics, such as those supplied by Koalaa to huge benefit in the recent Limitless Campaign for children, are a new and innovative development and it is wonderful to see in the video accessible through the previous post how the Ukrainian amputees are instantly able to wear and use them. Nate, founder of Koalaa, was there to support the first fitting of a soft prosthetic at the  ‘Unbroken’ National Rehabilitation Centre in Lviv. This must be a transformative experience for the Ukrainian amputees and the relief and hope for the future it must bring inestimable.

Edward Hall reported later that almost immediately after being fitted with their new prosthetic arms, the amputees were using them and one was even playing the guitar! He said that the memory of the smiles on their faces as they received them after so many occasions when hopes had been raised and then dashed would remain with him forever.

Between them, the team have a wealth of experience to draw on in their ambitions to help Ukraine having worked with organisations over the past 30 year to provide healthcare when people are overwhelmed by natural disaster, conflict or disease and are in need of immediate help. This included Bosnia during the siege of Sarajevo in 1993 and in the subsequent 20 years, they have gone on to support people in need in more than 50 countries.

Ukraine Future Team Mission 2
The Ukraine Future Team

Objectives of The Ukraine Future Team Mission 2

    1. Deliver field ambulance vehicle and a vehicle for wheelchair access/mobility (procured and delivered with the support of the Douglas Bader Foundation and other donors)
    2. Set up prosthetics fitting training session, with the support of Koalaa to ensure we have a system in place for individual patient follow-up and sustaining this programme
    3. Through the above understand the process for introducing other innovative products and services supporting amputees, and the feasibility of a Ukraine Project Limitless
    4. Soft Launch of amputee support network and knowledge exchange aiming for 1-3 international events

a. The impact of early intervention in the rehabilitation journey

b. Encouraging Innovation – a case study in soft prosthetics and the challenge of above elbow amputations

c. Reskilling amputees: purpose, welfare and livelihoods – case studies from around the world

I cannot think of a time and place where the Bader story is more important to share than in present day Ukraine – Member of the Ukraine Future Team

Mission 2 draws to a successful close

Edward Hall, who accompanied The Ukraine Future Team on this mission, hands the keys of his late mother’s Mobility Vehicle to a happy Ukrainian representative outside the “Unbroken” National Rehabilitation Centre in Lviv. Mr. Hall feels that his mother would be proud to see her car’s new purpose. Especially when shortly after returning, the Team had a call to say that it had already been used to rescue an injured woman and her 2 children.

The dream of the Ukraine Future Team

The Team aims to help to build a more sustainable peace through the support of those injured by the war. This will obviously be a long journey but the Team feel satisfied that the first two missions have laid a foundation for this work.

The beneficiaries may be children, adults, women and men. However, until there’s greater rehabilitation capacity in the country, we will be first directed to the military – the veterans, whose support is so important for the morale of those in the front line and the country as a whole.

While both missions were successful and achieved their objectives wonderfully, there is no sense of  “mission accomplished”.  Further missions will follow to slowly build that much needed rehabilitation capacity and the team and its supporters are looking to create a longer term programme that can be scaled and sustained

Ultimately our missions might add up to a new Ukrainian rehabilitation pathway established for and by limb different people, from their stabilisation in the frontline or moment of their accident to their complete rehabilitation in the community.

The missions might lead to a soft prosthetics fitting service accessible across the entire country, so long as Koalaa has sufficient capacity to supply and can provide support to the fitters, the patients and their families, just as they have sought to do with Project Limitless in the UK.

The missions might lead to a vocational training programme for amputees and this is something that Mike Wildeman and I are looking closely at during the next mission.

We can take a step towards these broader goals mission by mission, clinic by clinic, region by region. Our approach will evolve as we learn more on each mission.

We are the ‘pathfinders’, as Leonard Cheshire would say about us when he lent his support to the fledgling Merlin. The Ukraine Future Team

Ukraine Future Team Mission 2
The poignantly named “Unbroken” National Rehabilitation Centre in Lviv

DBF is very proud to support this courageous team in past and future missions to help people injured as they fought to defend their country in a war not of their making.

We are a global people and what hurts one hurts all. Equally, what helps one helps all and our thanks and respect to the Ukraine Future Team. We’re honoured to work with you.

We’ll be including blogs from some of the team members, which promise to be fascinating and inspiring reading, as well as more information and news of other support so please keep checking in.

Please take a look at the following video to get more of an idea of The Ukraine Future Team’s humanitarian ambitions.


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More news will follow shortly and you can expect updates and articles and from individual members of the team, which promise to make fascinating reading. Please keep checking in.