An Army veteran is recovering at home after a heart transplant, but is unable to see his young sons over fears they may pose a risk to his health amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
Thirty-two-year-old Phillip Hardwell was medically discharged from the Royal Artillery in 2018, after being diagnosed with a heart condition known as Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy (ARVC).
A heart transplant became his only option after his condition worsened in February last year.
Mr Hardwell was transferred to the Royal Papworth Hospital in December.
A hospital visit in February from his young sons, seven-year-old Reggie and two-year-old Luca, was the last time he saw them, and he has since undergone a heart transplant, on 8 April.
Mr Hardwell did return to his Bristol home later that month, but a reunion with his sons has still not been possible.
It is hoped the veteran will see his son Luca in a few weeks, but it is unclear as to when he can see Reggie, as his mother is a key worker.
"My wife Roxanne has been caring for me, and so we haven’t been able to hold them in weeks," Mr Hardwell said.
"They have been staying with a registered key worker childminder.
"The closest I have been to them is seeing them from a distance through the back garden.
"It’s tough for them when all they want is a cuddle from their mum and dad.
"It will be like that for a couple of weeks until my immune suppressants work and there is less of a risk," he added.
Mr Hardwell joined the Royal Artillery as an 18-year-old. He served on two tours of Afghanistan, as well as serving in the Falklands and Norway.
He discovered he had an irregular heartbeat in July 2016, and was diagnosed with ARVC in 2017 - the same condition his mother had died from.
A defibrillator was fitted to him in 2017, and he was medically discharged from the Army in 2018.
After his condition worsened, Mr Hardwell reached out to his local branch of SSAFA - the Armed Forces charity - for support.
The organisation arranged funding for travel and accommodation for Mr Hardwell and wife Roxanne during the treatment, which enabled her to stay with him in Cambridge.
Mr Hardwell said, of his wife: "She kept me going.
"Without her I am not sure if I would have made it as far as it did."
Alan Thomas, a volunteer caseworker with SSAFA, said Mr Hardwell and his family were in the charity’s thoughts "constantly".
"They are a brilliant couple who have been through an extremely difficult and stressful time but have come out of it fighting," Mr Thomas said.
"We are so glad Phillip is doing well, and when they are reunited with their children this will be a truly happy ending."
Cover image: SSAFA.