For as long as I can remember I wanted to be in the Army. My grandmother used to relay stories of her time in the military, and I knew that when I left school that’s what I wanted to do. When I was 16 years old I passed all the basic fitness tests and joined the Army as an Infantry Soldier in the Staffordshire Regiment. The ‘Stafford’s’ have armoured vehicles called a Warriors. I became a gunner and trained to operate the Warrior. I was so happy, when I was in the tank it felt like home from home – a lot of the time I would just sleep in it.
Karl Hinett, a solider in the Iraq War, survived 37% burns to his body whilst supporting an operation in Basra in 2005
On 19th September 2005 I sustained life-changing injuries.
When I was 18 years I was deployed to Basra, to support an operation to rescue two British Special Forces soldiers who were captured in a Basra police station. As the rescue mission progressed in the day, a full-scale riot broke out. The rioters were in control, and we were unable to retreat. The Warrior’s viewing sights were shattered by petrol bombs, grenades, bricks, and shrapnel, at one point they were on top of the Warrior dousing it in petrol. As we couldn’t view properly, we were forced to open our hatch to see outside the tank – right at the moment a petrol bomb was thrown. It got inside the turret – drenching me in burning petrol and instantly filling the Warrior with fire. It was like being underwater but in fire.
I was overwhelmed with panic. It took me about 20 seconds to realise I need to get out of the tank to survive. That’s the reason why my hands are so badly damaged – because of gripping onto the Warrior to pull myself out. Luckily my mates were there and hulled me back for safety. I was taken by helicopter back to my field hospital where I remember being taken into an operating theatre and then just seeing a needle, feeling anesthetic running through my body, and passing out.
I was in an induced coma for 10 days, I was evacuated from Iraq and the next thing I remember is waking up in Selly Oak Hospital in the Intensive Care Unit. I had survived burns affecting 37% of my body - injuries affected my face, arms, and crucially my hands. I was just a teenager. I found my altered appearance initially really difficult to deal with – but had incredible support from my friends, family, my regiment, and the staff at Queen Elizabeth Hospital. I had to heal inside too and come to terms with what had happened. My recovery included approximately 25 operations over five years, and I still have treatment to this day.
It has been the physical impact of scarring which has caused long-term pain and discomfort. I don’t think that many people realise or understand the effect that scarring has on people. My hands and fingers were worst affected and very badly burned, which had an enormous impact on my ability to use them – as scars heal the skin tightens and my scars ended up contorting my hands so that they were formed into fists. I had surgery to relieve the tightening but with each operation comes more scaring, which would heal and seize up again.
I found that to get better mentally I needed to get physically better, which has made me challenge my self. I began running marathons as part of my recovery and have since completed over 100 marathons, and 13 years after my the petrol bomb was thrown, I won a Silver medal in the 1500 meters race at the 2018 Invictus games in Australia. I am also proud to say I’m married and have the most beautiful wife and little boy.
I became involved with The Scar Free Foundation through my surgeon – Professor Naiem Moieman (who is the director of The Scar Free Foundation Centre For Conflict Wound Research, based at QEH, Birmingham) and am also a member of The CASEVAC Club (who are British ex-servicemen and women that are the ‘unexpected survivors’ of casualty evacuation from military conflicts in Iran and Afghanistan – who work closely with the Foundation).
If you had told me after I got burnt in Iraq that scar free healing was possible I would never have believed you. But its is The science is in our grasp and the Scar Free Foundation can make this happen. That is why I’m working with the charity - to help others in the future be without the pain and discomfort caused by scarring. I hope that one day that the vision of scar free healing becomes a reality.