WHEN you have lost a leg and an arm, looking after a toddler can be tricky – especially when it comes to clipping your wriggling child into a car set.
But war hero Ben McBean, who defied the odds to become a dad after suffering groin injuries in the Taliban bomb blast that cost him his limbs, has got it all worked out.
News Group Newspapers Ltd Former Royal Marine Ben McBean, partner Zara Archer with son Albie at their home in Plymouth
The former Marine, dubbed “Harry’s hero” after he flew back from Afghanistan on the same flight as the Prince, declared: “In fact I am better at doing it than the missus!”
Speaking about his joy at his unexpected fatherhood as he posed with son Albie, 21 months, and partner Zara, 31, Ben added: “Looking back, all the struggles have been worthwhile.‘I DIDN’T KNOW IF I’D EVER GET A GIRLFRIEND’
“I am so glad I never gave up because now I have Albie and it’s the greatest thing in the world.”
Millies Award winner Ben, 31, who had to have a testicle removed due to injuries caused by the explosion, also joked: “At least it all still works down there and my one remaining testicle was up to the task.”
The former Commando, of Plymouth, Devon, lost his right leg and left arm when he stepped on a mine in February 2008 while on patrol in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. He was just 20 years old.
Ben was one of two injured Marines to share a flight back to the UK with Prince Harry.
The royal was forced to come home after his secret frontline mission was revealed.
News Group Newspapers Ltd Ben, dubbed ‘Harry’s hero’, smiles next to Prince Harry at the Millies Awards reception in 2009
Ben admits becoming a dad was the furthest thing from his mind as he set out on the path to recovery.
It was a long journey — with his groin injury requiring a new op long after the blast.
He explained: “It was not until two years after the explosion that I had the testicle removed and a false one put in. I wasn’t that worried about a testicle after all I had been through.
“I was only 20 when I was blown up, and back then I only had myself to think about and didn’t know if I’d ever get a girlfriend let alone become a dad.
“I was given a choice about the operation to remove a testicle but told it could affect the other one if I kept it.
“So looking back, that was a good choice and a wise decision, although I really wasn’t thinking about kids.
“I had hundreds of injuries with shrapnel wounds all over my body, and still have shrapnel in me so it wasn’t that big a deal for me.”
As he recovered, Ben met old schoolmate Zara, who is a nurse, in a pub on a night out in Plymouth.
Ben — who won a Sun Overcoming Adversity Millie in 2009 — recalled: “We got on well and just started chatting. We knew each other but weren’t close at school, and when I was back in Plymouth and doing rehab I bumped into a few old school people.
News Group Newspapers Ltd Ben cradles his son Albie, about three hours old, at the family home in Plymouth
“Zara is chilled and good fun. We have a normal relationship — it used to be date nights, but now it’s boxsets.”
The lovebirds — who have been together for five years — did not plan the pregnancy but were overjoyed when Zara discovered she was expecting.
Ben had never asked medics about his parenthood chances or had a sperm count or checks on his other testicle.
He said: “We were shocked but extremely happy I have always wanted kids and when it happened and Zara got pregnant it was a surprise. It was not planned.
“The only conversation we ever had about it was a jokey one with her saying, ‘Are you all right down there?’
“I didn’t know but just said, ‘Yes, of course.’
“But there’s only one way to find out, isn’t there — and I have proved it works!”
Such a happy future was something Ben could never have imagined in 2008.
He said: “When I was first injured I thought, ‘I am in so much pain I’d rather be dead.’
“It has been difficult to stay positive because there is nothing positive about having your arm and leg blown off.
“I have had my struggles and now it all feels worthwhile. Now I look at Albie and often think, ‘Life isn’t so bad.’ ”
Collect The former Commando lost his right leg, left arm and a testicle after he stepped on a mine in 2008 in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province
But becoming a dad threw up fresh challenges — similar to the ones he faced in the aftermath of the explosion.
He explained: “The birth was great, but to be honest having a child was scary.
“Everyone who becomes a parent is nervous but I guess it was more so for me.
“It was a bit like when I was first injured and had to figure out things like getting dressed when I only had one arm. But you adapt to it and work things out.
“Now I can change a nappy with one arm — I use my stump leg to hold Albie’s legs up and now he’s a bit older he helps me out, too. I also figured out a way of getting him in the car seat, by clawing both bits together. I like to take him to the park but I know I’ll miss out on certain things like playing football with him and running around.”
‘YOU NEVER FORGET, AND NEVER RECOVER’
Ben has prosthetics including a walking and running leg and a false arm, but rarely wears them when he is at home with Zara and Albie. He continued: “It is a pain when you do things like make two cups of tea and have to make two journeys to get them.
“But Zara and Albie help out a lot and Albie carries things for me, like his iPad.” Although they have no immediate plans to add to the family, Ben and Zara would like more children.
The former 40 Commando Marine said: “In the future I think we will have more but we are not in a rush and are happy with our lives at the moment.”
Brave Ben, who in 2009 became the first double amputee to complete the London Marathon, was initially handed a compensation payout of just £161,000 for his horrific injuries. It was later raised to £275,000.
He invested some of the money in property, making money from buying and selling around Plymouth.
But for the last two years, the war hero has been beset by more health problems.He explained: “I had problems with my stump, which got infected and I was even in a wheelchair for a bit.
“It was a case of one step forward, two steps back and I had a lot of problems so have calmed down in the last couple of years.
“I also suffered mentally — and one morning could not face getting out of bed.
“I was thinking about Afghanistan a lot and having flashbacks. You get to the point you feel like jumping out of a window.
“I went downhill and kept myself to myself.
News Group Newspapers Ltd ‘Now I look at Albie and often think, ‘Life isn’t so bad’ ’, says Ben
“I had what I guess was PTSD and I went to the doctor. I was given anti- depressants which I took for a while.
“But I thought, ‘This isn’t helping — these are just sedating me, not making it better’ so I processed the problems myself.
“I try to stay happy and positive but it is not easy because you never forget about losing your arm and your leg — you never fully recover.
“I am soon going to have the 11th anniversary of being blown up, but I have Zara and Albie with me, which is great.”
Ben now works as a motivational speaker, giving talks to banks and businesses.
He said: “My story is now better, as there is more to it and it’s not just a case of how I got injured and survived. I enjoy it and a few weeks ago I gave a talk to 4,000 people at the Excel Arena in London. That was nerve-racking!”
And Ben has inspiring words for dad-to-be and old pal Prince Harry, who dubbed Ben the “real hero” after they jetted home together.
Ben said: “I am glad he is doing well.
“He has had his struggles with losing his mother and what he saw in Afghanistan — he saw injures like mine first-hand.
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“I am happy he’s with Meghan and they are expecting. He obviously loves her and that is great.
“We have both been through and seen a lot.
“I’m sure I’ll see him again and I’ll congratulate him and wish him the best.”
News Group Newspapers Ltd Ben can change a nappy with one arm – with a little help from Albie
News Group Newspapers Ltd The couple would like to have more children in the future
News Group Newspapers Ltd Ben works as a motivational speaker and says: ‘My story is now better’
The Millies 2016 Red Carpet: Ben McBean