Soldier left with catastrophic brain injury hours after returning from Iraq honours charity on his wedding day

Hours after returning home to Lancashire in February 2007, Kieran Wood, now 34, a private with the Duke of Lancaster’s, was in a catastrophic crash

Kieran Wood, 34, and Claire Wood, 39, had a Help For Heroes themed wedding in April 2022 at Saddleworth Hotel in Oldham, Lancashire. (Caroline Meldrum/PA Real Life)
Kieran Wood, 34, and Claire Wood, 39, had a Help For Heroes themed wedding in April 2022 at Saddleworth Hotel in Oldham, Lancashire. (Caroline Meldrum/PA Real Life)

An Invictus Games gold medallist who suffered a life-changing brain injury in a car crash on the day he came home from a tour of Iraq has tied-the-knot in a ceremony themed to honour military charity Help for Heroes.

A private with the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, just hours after arriving home in February 2007, Kieran Wood, then 18, was a passenger in a catastrophic car crash in which the driver skidded and collided with another vehicle and a friend of them both was killed.

Flung through the rear window of the vehicle into a ditch, Kieran, now 34, of Preston, Lancashire, was left with severe brain damage that meant he could neither walk nor talk.

Kieran Wood, aged 18, on his first tour of Iraq between 2006 and 2007 (Collect/PA Real Life)

But, following years of rehabilitation, not only can he walk and talk again, but he has become a champion archer and rower and has found lasting love with primary teacher Claire Wood, 39, who said: “Kieran has overcome so many challenges in his life and what he has achieved is incredible.

“We genuinely love each other for the people that we are.

“He sees me in a way that I can’t and somehow sees the best in me every day.”

Kieran Wood, aged 18, on his first tour of Iraq between 2006 and 2007 (Collect/PA Real Life)

Always ambitious to become a soldier, Kieran joined the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment in 2006 and was sent on his first three month tour of Iraq in the November, when he was just 18.

Just hours after regaling his parents and younger siblings with Army stories at a reunion meal on February 3, 2007, when he returned home, he was left with life-changing injuries after a terrible car crash, which saw his friend, who was driving, skidding onto the opposite side of the road and hitting another vehicle.

Claire explained: “Kieran had come back from tour and enjoyed a family meal.”

Kieran Wood on the day he arrived home from his first tour of Iraq, just hours before the crash that left him with severe brain damage (Collect/PA Real Life)

She added: “I know he had been really excited to get home and see them all and they’d taken a picture together on the settee.

“Then he went out with some friends in the car and that’s when the accident happened.”

For a year after the accident, in which the driver sustained minor injuries, Kieran remained in hospital.

Knowing everything he has been through, seeing that is amazing.

Claire said: “It was horrendous for his family. Initially, they didn’t know if he would survive or what he would be like if he did survive.

“He couldn’t walk or talk for the first few months.”

After two bouts of brain surgery, extensive rehabilitation and speech therapy, Kieran finally spoke, only to swear, saying ‘F*** off’.

Kieran Wood in hospital in 2007 after the crash, with his brother, Rory Wood and sister, Freya Wood (Collect/PA Real Life)

Despite his choice of words, his family were delighted, according to Claire, who continued: “At first he could only say a few swear words, but he has come a long way since then.

“The reason he swears is very much a part of the brain damage. The best way to describe it is you categorise everything into a library into your head and when Kieran had his accident, the library was scattered.

“So the easiest ones for him to get are the ones that aren’t categorised – like when you drop something on your foot, you might swear and don’t think about it – so you aren’t reaching anywhere for that word.”

Kieran Wood, 34, using his recumbent bike (Collect/PA Real Life)

After six months, Kieran started to take his first steps – taking two years to learn to walk with a fitted walking aid connected to his leg – while he continues to have speech therapy.

But he now suffers with epilepsy, a condition that affects the brain and causes seizures, and has muscle weakness down the right-hand side of his body.

Still, refusing to be held back, Kieran started trying a number of adaptive sports with the support of Help for Heroes and became adept in both archery and rowing.

Kieran Wood, 34, with his bronze medal in the Invictus Games in London in 2014 (Collect/PA Real Life)

Winning a bronze medal for rowing in the Invictus Games for wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women in London in 2014,  he then won gold for archery three years later in Toronto, Canada.

Claire said: “He holds the bow with his left arm and then he has a mouth tag attached to where the arrow goes.”

“Knowing everything he has been through, seeing that is amazing.”

Just the fact he is alive, is incredible, without all these achievements.

She added: “He’s always in the gym at home, or on the rowing machine, using one arm, as his brain injury means his right arm is too weak.”

More recently, Kieran has also been using a recumbent bike so he can use both his legs – but with a special leg brace.

And he is trying water sports, like adaptive paddle boarding.

Kieran Wood, 34, with his Help For Heroes tattoo (Help For Heroes/PA Real Life)

Meanwhile, his bride is bursting with pride, saying: “I don’t think proud quite covers it really.

“Just the fact he is alive, is incredible, without all these achievements.”

But Kieran’s greatest achievement, since meeting Claire in November 2018, when they both swiped each other on the dating website Match.com, has  been becoming a dad to Bertie, 16 months.

Kieran Wood, 34, and Claire Wood, 39, with their newborn son, Bertie Wood, who was born on Valentine’s Day 2021 (Collect/PA Real Life)

She said: “To do all these competitions and be a brilliant father too is just amazing.”

And Kieran has worked tirelessly to raise money for Help for Heroes – participating in fundraising and fellowship events.

His efforts were rewarded in August 2019 when Prince Charles presented him with a players’ player award at the Mey Games in John O’Groats –  Scotland’s first fully-inclusive Highland Games for athletes of all abilities.

Prince Charles presenting Kieran Wood with a players player award at the Mey Games in John O’Groats in August 2019 (Help For Heroes/PA Real Life)

Claire said: “Watching Kieran throwing the hammer and shotput at the Mey Games and being handed that award by Prince Charles was quite overwhelming.

“He always brushes it off because, for him, it’s about the camaraderie and he doesn’t feel he deserves any special credit.

“But, as a family, we have seen how far he has come and what he has achieved.”

Bertie and Kieran bonded instantly. They are adorable together.

Equally, Keiran refused to let his injuries hold him back when it came to romance.

Claire recalled: “The first message I sent him back in 2018 said he had the kindest eyes I had ever seen, the most kind, gentle eyes.

“We texted back and forth for a few weeks and exchanged a few voice messages. Then we arranged to meet before Christmas.”

Kieran Wood, 34, and his son, Bertie Wood, 16 months old (Collect/PA Real Life)

She added: “We went to a Mexican restaurant and then the cinema, before I drove Kieran home.

“When I got home, I had butterflies and I just knew he was the one.”

Despite Kieran’s speech challenges, Claire said she never had any trouble communicating.

Kieran Wood and Claire Wood on holiday in Mexico in May 2019 (Collect/PA Real Life)

She said: “It’s obvious when you speak to Kieran that speech is an issue, but he writes in a different way to how he speaks. Also, the way he speaks is not an issue – it’s just Kieran.

“If you take the time to hear him and ignore the swearing – which he does as he can’t help it – you can understand him.

“He sees so much more than other people and he so much more of a gentleman than any other man. I never walk to a door without him opening it.”

Help for Heroes is a part of Kieran. He would not be who he is without them.

In May 2019, Kieran and Claire went on a trip of a lifetime to Mexico.

She said: “It was incredible. We swam with the dolphins and we even went to the Mayan pyramids, which were over 100 steps, with me pulling Kieran up.

“When we got to the top, he turned around and joked, ‘Seizure, me?’ I just laughed and said, ‘No, you can’t!'”

Kieran Wood and Claire Wood at the top of a Mayan Pyramid in 2019 (Collect/PA Real Life)

Claire added: “We had to bum shuffle the whole way down, with me holding onto Kieran in this 30-something degree heat.

“That was one of our biggest achievements together.”

Then, in March 2020, Kieran proposed to Claire.

Claire Wood with her beautiful engagement ring after Kieran proposed in March 2020 (Collect/PA Real Life)She said: “In Mexico, Kieran had jokingly proposed with a Haribo ring and I’d told him he had no chance with a ring like that.

“But a year later, he took me out for afternoon tea somewhere really fancy, so I was all dressed up and had my hair and nails done.

“He got out this Haribo ring and he just said, ‘Marry me’.”

Kieran was there every step of the way. He was beside me saying 'focus' and 'breathe' and 'push'.

She added: “I went to put the ring on my finger and he laughed and got out this beautiful pear drop diamond ring.”

Sadly, the couple’s wedding plans were postponed by lockdown but at the end of May 2020, they were delighted to discover they were expecting – with little Bertie born on Valentine’s Day 2021.

Claire said: “I had a water birth and Kieran was there every step of the way. He was beside me saying ‘focus’ and ‘breathe’ and ‘push.'”

Claire and Kieran Wood with their newborn son, Bertie Wood, who was born on Valentine’s Day 2021 (Collect/PA Real Life)

She added: “Bertie and Kieran bonded instantly. They are adorable together.

“Kieran has been through many challenges and Bertie is the next one.”

While Kieran’s weak right arm means he cannot carry his son and his epilepsy stops him from looking after him alone, the couple make things work brilliantly.

Bertie Wood, 16 months, wearing his dad’s army beret(Collect/PA Real Life)

Claire said: “Bertie is so loveable and cheeky like his dad and has such a good sense of humour already.

“It isn’t always easy with Bertie nearly two and running around, so I need to catch him, but he is so attentive and such an incredible dad.

“Kieran always helps with the pram and holds Bertie’s hand or reigns when he’s walking and gives him his bottle every night and bathes him.”

Bertie Wood, 16 months, watching his dad, Kieran Wood, working out in his home gym (Collect/PA Real Life)

Claire added: “We also have Kieran’s amazing rehabilitation support staff, Sean Blane, 41, who helps us with training, events, speech, physio and occupational health three days a week, as well as other staff on other days.

And with the lockdowns over, the couple settled on April 15, 2022, for their big day – also deciding to  have a Help for Heroes-themed wedding.

Kieran and his groomsmen wore Help for Heroes kilts, while Claire and the bridesmaids had bouquets in the charity’s red, white and blue colours.

Kieran Wood, 34, and Claire Wood, 39, had a Help For Heroes themed wedding in April 2022 at Saddleworth Hotel in Oldham, Lancashire. (Caroline Meldrum/PA Real Life)

Claire said: “Help for Heroes is a part of Kieran. He would not be who he is without them, so  the charity was always going to play a big part in our wedding day.

“It was very much our wedding, but we wanted to incorporate the charity, because they have done so much for him.”

As well as decorating the venue, Saddleworth Hotel in Oldham, Lancashire, in the tricolours, the couple – who live in a specially adapted bungalow – asked guests to donate to the charity instead of buying gifts and raised over £1,000.

Claire said: “It was such a gorgeous day and night.

“I asked Kieran’s mum if the day was everything she wanted for him and she said, ‘You and Bertie are everything we wanted for him’.“For our first dance, Iris by the Goo Goo Dolls, Bertie joined us and we held him and danced together, then everyone came and joined us, which was beautiful.”

Kieran Wood, 34, Claire Wood, 39, and their son, Bertie Wood, in May 2022 (Collect/PA Real Life)

Another big wedding surprise came in the form of a video from Prince Harry at the Invictus Games, which Kieran has competed at three times.

Organised by one of Kieran’s ushers, who was unable to attend the big day because he was competing at the games in the Hague, the Prince popped them a message, congratulating him.

Claire, who said they then had a four day honeymoon in Rome, Italy, continued: “We couldn’t believe it. I was flabbergasted.”

Kieran Wood, 34, and Claire Wood, 39, on their honeymoon in Rome (Collect/PA Real Life)

Now Kieran is busy planning new challenges and activities.

On June 25, he joined the Wounded Highlanders squad for another adaptive sports challenge against a number of able-bodied battalions for the 4 Scots in Catterick.

Claire continued: “Kieran has gone from strength to strength. He still works on his arm and speech therapy and there is an ongoing sequence of maintaining and trying to improve his health.

“But he has done amazingly and we are so proud of him.

“I love seeing what he does and the father he has become. His family and I are so proud of him.”

For more information visit helpforheroes.org.uk.

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