Published: 12:00, 24 February 2012
This brave Army captain completed two gruelling tours of duty in Afghanistan - but it was a friendly game of rugby 10 days after he returned home that left him paralysed.
Tom Hughes, 29, has now turned a corner on the road to recovery following the devastating injury playing for Maidstone Rugby Club.
Wheelchair-bound and hospitalised for nearly four months, the former Maidstone Grammar School pupil has recently regained movement in his hands and started to feel sensations in his legs.
Tom's incredible progress means he will leave Stoke Mandeville Hospital next month and continue his rehabilitation at Headly Court, in Surrey, which specialises in the treatment of injured service personnel.
Displaying the sort of courage that led him through active duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, Tom acknowledges the sickening irony that saw him return from the battlefield unscathed - but end up paralysed on a Kent rugby field.
He said: "Doing something I love has put me in this situation.
"After months and months of hard work and intensive training it was fantastic to be home and back on the rugby pitch.
"But the fact I’m in a wheelchair doesn’t mean I’ll capitulate.
"I’ve decided I’m going to walk again, it’s not open to question."
Tom sustained his life-changing injury during a friendly match last October when his Maidstone 2nds side played Old Dunstonians, in Beckenham.
Having taken a bad tackle and "a few more hits" he carried on playing until he felt a "fizzing sensation" in his arms 10 minutes before the end of the game.
Army captain Tom Hughes was injured while playing rugby for Maidstone Rugby Club.
The club’s physio immediately recognised the neurological symptoms and called an ambulance.
Placed on a spinal board and with his neck in a brace, Tom was suddenly aware of the seriousness of his injury.
"The pain was horrendous, the sort I wouldn’t wish on my own worst enemy," he said.
"Then I realised I’d lost the feeling in my legs - it was one of the worst experiences of my life."
An MRI scan at King's College Hospital, in London, revealed Tom had "popped" two discs between the vertebrae in his neck which crushed his spinal chord.
He was fitted with carbon fibre discs held together with a titanium plate, but remains paralysed from the chest down.
Tom said doctors won’t be drawn on his chances of a full recovery, but he’s convinced he remains blessed.
He said: "I met an Army chap in a restaurant the other day who had lost limbs in an explosion.
"It was a moment of clarity that reminded me there are people far worse off than me."
Tom’s last tour of duty with the 9th/12th Royal Lancers was to Helmand Province in which he led a troop of 30 soldiers in the Brigade Reconnaissance Force.
He was due to return there in October 2013.
Instead, with the love and support of Allington-based parents David and Diane, his sister Ruth, 27, and girlfriend Hannah, 25, he’s planning a personal mission of his own - a return to a "normal job" with the Army.
Explaining how his Forces training has helped keep dark forces at bay as he battles paralysis, Tom said: "When you’re on tour you’re mentally prepared to lose a limb, so that preparation has made my situation easier to deal with.
"This is a setback but I’ve got the rest of my life to go."
More by this authorDanny Boyle
This website and its associated newspaper are members of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO)