The heartbreaking reason this photo of a father hugging his daughter for the first time brings a tear to his wife’s eye every time she looks at it
- Matt Page met his daughter at Sydney airport after returning from Afghanistan
- His wife Karen said she had ‘held her breath’ until she could get a photo of them
- He returned home safely but a year later in 2010 suffered an injury in Australia
- Ms Page has written a book describing the family’s struggles in the years since
A 10-year-old photo of army veteran Matt Page holding his daughter for the first time after stepping off a plane back home to Australia brings a tear to his wife’s eye to this day.
Karen Page snapped the picture of her husband and daughter Willow at the arrivals lounge of Sydney airport in 2009 while he was on leave from Afghanistan.
‘After she was born I was holding my breath waiting for that photo. Just to have them together and that connection. I just wanted her to have something,’ Ms Page said.
Matt Page meeting his daughter Willow for the first time at Sydney Airport in 2009 after returning from Afghanistan
After going through unsuccessful IVF treatment, Ms Page had miraculously become pregnant naturally and given birth to Willow two months earlier.
As her husband was away to complete a six-month tour of Iraq and then another eight-month tour of Afghanistan she had constantly worried he would not make it back home.
The army reservist did arrive back, however, an injury while training on Australian soil just one year later unexpectedly turned their world upside down.
The accident led to years of medical issues for Mr Page where he would experience lapses in memory and moments where he would not recognise his daughter.
They say they also struggled to receive support from the Department of Veterans Affairs and were flooded with bureaucratic paperwork on top of dealing with his rehabilitation.
‘What they make you go through is daunting and overwhelming. It’s really been a decade of fighting for us to get to a point where we’re getting adequate support,’ Mr Page told Daily Mail Australia.
In December 2010 while performing night exercises at Puckapunyal in Victoria Mr Page’s Bushmaster vehicle hit a ditch and he was thrown out of the manhole.
He collided with a remote weapons station on top of the heavily armoured vehicle.
‘The next thing I remember is just hanging there by my equipment struck up in the gun ring and I can hear my driver yelling at me through my earpiece asking, am I OK, what do we do?’ he recalled.
Running on adrenaline and not realising the extent of his injuries, Mr Page continued the training but then collapsed as he tried to exit the vehicle.
He subsequently spent three days in hospital before doctors discharged him.
Monitored by medics he then returned to his camp for the remainder of the training.
‘I had a pinkish discharge from my nose for several days and was in constant pain. However, I was advised by medics that the pink fluid was of no concern because the doctor had released me,’ Mr Page said.
The discharge was brain fluid, with the extent of his injuries becoming apparent after he returned home.
Matt Page and his wife Karen (pictured) are releasing a book detailing their struggles after Matt suffered an injury in an army training exercise in 2010
Mr Page described constant headaches, gaps in his memory, and moments were he would simply zone out of consciousness for a minute – later diagnosed as partial focal seizures.
He even said there were occasions where he would look at his daughter and not grasp who she was but also thinking in the back of his mind that he should know.
After a years-long struggle to gain recognition of his injuries and support from the defence force, Mr Page was finally granted medical discharge in 2013 and pension in 2015.
They claim the army had largely brushed off his injuries until he penned a letter to then Defence Minister Warren Snowden.
In being medically discharged he was found to be suffering adjustment disorder – anxiety and depression, mild traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic epilepsy.
Ms Page has written a book ‘My Broken Soldier’ to be released on Anzac Day which details not only their struggles with his injuries but also their whole family’s journey from when Mr page was first deployed overseas.
The book also details her realisation that her husband was not quite the same man when he returned to their Armidale property from Puckapunyal.
By releasing the book the pair hope to encourage other soldiers to speak up about their struggles.
They are also calling for better procedures to be implemented in the defence force around evaluations before enlistment, support for families, and to cut through bureaucracy when trying to get help.
Daily Mail Australia has contacted the ADF for comment.