Darryl Hansen was a corporal with the 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry when one of his troop mates stepped on an improvised explosive device in July 2008.
His unit was on patrol in Afghanistan near a forward operations base and already had multiple firefights that day and Hansen had injured his knee, but pressed on to finish the patrol.
“We were about 125 metres away from our destination where we were going to stop for the night and my buddy stepped on the IED and triggered it and he passed away,” Hansen said.
The shockwave slammed Hansen into a mud wall that collapsed on top of him.
“I remember waking up and the guys were saying, ‘Don’t let him go to sleep,’ and they were keeping me awake the rest of the night,” Hansen said.
Hansen, then 26, in the few months after arriving in Afghanistan, had already survived multiple firefights, a previous IED explosion that killed his section commander and a suicide bomber who killed an Afghan National Army member and injured three Canadians.
The explosion left Hansen with a swollen disc in his spine, whiplash, permanent ringing in his ears and severe headaches from a traumatic brain injury, which have been treated since 2012 with Botox injections to his scalp to relax soft tissue and relieve pressure on his skull. The treatments make him feel sick, but are preferable to the prescription painkillers that blunted pain and cognitive skills.
Extensive testing determined the nature of his brain injury and how to treat it.
Hansen was slurring his speech, had trouble recalling words, would get lost and eventually had to use a GPS to commute between home and work.
Hansen, now 33, recently moved to Campbell River to become a financial advisor and credits his success to support from his wife, maintaining a positive attitude and the Canadian Armed Forces’ Join Personnel Support Unit, which extended Hansen’s military service by assigning him to the 39 Signal Regiment in Nanaimo.
“The [support unit] was the greatest thing the Canadian military’s ever done, in my opinion,” Hansen said. “We got to go there and hang out with other injured soldiers and talk about our story. … I was helping a lot of the new guys that were injured trying to get through the Veterans Affairs system, because that’s a tough system to deal with.”
Hansen was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for his work with veterans in 2013.