When ex-RAF servicewoman Jesse needed to take her career in a new direction due to lasting damage from a leg injury, the RAF Benevolent Fund, the RAF’s leading welfare charity, stepped in to support her retraining decision and help ease the financial strain.

Jessica Sowerby, known as Jesse, was an aeromedical evacuation nurse in the RAF for eight years. Jesse’s role was to take medical care of injured troops in Iraq in transit, then returning to RAF Brize Norton or other medical facilities across the UK.

When she left the air force in 2010, Jesse continued to pursue her career in nursing, until a running accident in 2018 left her with a severe leg injury and ongoing complications. Whilst running through a wooded area as night was falling, Jesse decided to take a shortcut across a field and fell into a pothole. Jesse tore her ACL, MCL and fractured her leg and as a result needed intensive physiotherapy.

Jesse said: “I have always been a sporty and active person, all throughout my life and in the RAF. I absolutely love running but have struggled with knee dislocations over the years, having my first one as a child and multiple times throughout my military career. I saw a knee specialist and found out I have hypermobility which can cause lots of issues.”

Jesse continued: “It was terrifying having to rebuild the use of my leg again with intensive physio. When I came out of the leg brace, I couldn’t even twitch my quad muscle due to the muscle wastage caused by the injury. I was told if I looked at my thigh and pictured it twitching, one day it will twitch – and eventually it did. It took three or four months for me to lift my leg off the floor; it was a long process.”

When Jesse wasn’t getting stronger from the physiotherapy, surgery became her only option. But the long periods of unpaid leave from work, and the thought of returning to a job where she would have to stand for hours on end, was putting a financial and emotional strain on Jesse and her husband.

The RAF Benevolent Fund stepped in to support Jesse with a grant towards the cost of retraining with an aesthetics course. Jesse was also supported with a grant towards the course by The Royal Naval Benevolent Fund, as her husband Daniel served in the Navy as an Aircraft Engineer.

Jesse said: “I was always interested in skin and dermatology as a nurse. The course was a fantastic opportunity to take my experience from working in dermatology and expand my nursing knowledge into the aesthetics sector. I like that I’m now helping people look better and feel better about themselves in my own aesthetics clinic – it’s nice to have a positive job.

“The opportunity to retrain has allowed me to regain control of my own life and the flexibility to adapt my workload and no longer worry about ‘letting people down’ at work. I have always hated not working to my full potential, with the possibility of downtime, I dreaded it like the plague – it’s possibly an ex-military thing!”

The loss of cartilage in Jesse’s knees over time due to multiple dislocations has resulted in her having arthritis in both knees at the age of 38.

Jesse reflected: “The support from the Fund has been massive for me because without the grant I wouldn’t have been able to pursue a new business opportunity. It allows me to work around my ongoing rehabilitation from my sports injury. I’m grateful for the help from the Fund; it’s been brilliant to take a negative situation and turn it into a positive outcome.”

The RAF Benevolent Fund provides financial, emotional, and practical assistance to serving and retired RAF personnel and their families. This includes grants to help with financial difficulty, mental health support, Airplay youth clubs, and more.