After surgery to remove a spinal tumor Squadron Leader Daz Purchase from RAF Wittering is working with a leading UK charity to help others with spinal injuries.
In 2012 Squadron Leader Purchase was diagnosed with a tumour in his spinal cord. The tumour was lurking in the C3 vertebra, just inches beneath the base of his skull. It was a life-changing moment for the RAF logistics officer who had always maintained a high level of fitness.
Daz said: “We never really appreciate how these events will affect us until they happen. I can honestly say I went through all the stages of the grief cycle. Eventually I let go of my anger and my pragmatic, logical nature kicked in. I knew I had to face the reality of my situation, not to mention plan for the future.”
Most people would want to start treatment immediately, to kill the tumour as soon as possible, but the doctors believed otherwise. Surgery inside the spinal cord is fraught with risk of paralysis and they advised Squadron Leader Purchase to leave the operation until it could not be avoided.
And so for four years the married father of two lived with the knowledge that a growing tumour was compressing his spinal cord. The effects meant a loss of function in his upper left side which, slowly, was beginning to show itself on his right side. The time for surgery had arrived.
20 hours on the operating table lie ahead, with a further five days of absolute stillness to allow the spine to heal and then weeks of physiotherapy at Headley Court to build his strength up again. Daz said: “My wife Jude was an absolute star throughout this entire period. She suffered all the same uncertainty and emotional turmoil and was my rock.”
Today Squadron Leader Purchase is all clear and is devoting his energies to supporting the Spinal Injuries Association (SIA). For over 40 years the SIA has been the leading source of advice and information for spinal injury sufferers.
First up is the Wings for Life World Run in Cambridge on 3rd May. It’s a reverse marathon which ends for the runners when the catcher-car draws level with them. Daz is also doing active support work, using his own experience in counselling others with spinal injuries.
He said: “Nothing prepares you for that moment when you hear the diagnosis. I know that I could not have got through this without Jude and our kids, or without the support of the Royal Air Force and Spinal Injuries Association. I’ve been incredibly lucky, it’s not the sort of thing you take for granted, so it’s important to give something back.”
Squadron Leader Purchase is Officer Commanding No 3 Mobile Catering Squadron, which is part of No 85 Expedition Logistics Wing at RAF Wittering. 85 Wing is led by Wing Commander Debs Wright.
Wing Commander Wright said: “Squadron Leader Purchase would be the first person to acknowledge how fortunate he has been to have survived this, and how much the people around him have aided his recovery. For me, Daz’s story is a lesson in how to confront adversity and then use those same experiences to help others. He is a remarkable officer and a credit to the RAF.”