Meet America’s five quadruple amputees injured in Iraq, Afghanistan

January 29th, 2013

The Semper Fi Fund is proud to support each of the injured service members discussed in this article. We are always excited to have others share with us in the successes of our servicemen and women as they travel along their very difficult roads to recovery. The Semper Fi Fund provides long-term assistance for life-long needs so that none of our injured or critically ill service members, like the five amazing men mentioned below, will ever be alone or forgotten.

American Homecomings | americanhomecomings.com | January 29, 2013

Early Easter morning in 2009, about 125 miles north of Baghdad, U.S. Army Sgt. Brendan Marrocco was riding in an armored vehicle that tripped a roadside explosive device.

The explosion blew Marrocco's arms and legs off, severed his left carotid artery and broke his nose, left eye socket and facial bones. It blew shrapnel into his face, burned his neck and face and damaged his eyesight.

Brendan Marrocco

Retired Infantryman Brendan Marrocco listens during a news conference at Johns Hopkins hospital in Baltimore. He received a transplant of two arms from a deceased donor after losing all four limbs in a 2009 roadside bomb attack in Iraq. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

"Any one of his injuries was life-threatening," his trauma surgeon, Maj. Jayson Aydelotte, told the New York Times in 2010. "It's incredible."

But Marrocco became the first U.S. soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan to survive injuries as a quadruple amputee. He's making history again now, as the recipient of a rare double-arm transplant.

Last month, the 26-year-old infantryman had successful surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

"It feels amazing," Marrocco told reporters Tuesday, CNN reported. "It is something that I was waiting for for a long time, and now that it happened, I don't know what to say, because it is such a big thing for my life."

Read an American Homecomings profile of Marrocco here. And meet the other four service members who have become quadruple amputees and survived since Marrocco's injuries.

Marine Cpl. Todd Nicely

On March 26, 2010, Marine Cpl. Todd Nicely was leading his men back from a security patrol in southern Afghanistan. Buried at the foot of a bridge ahead was a bomb made of 40 pounds of homemade explosives.

Nicely, a native of Arnold, Mo., went first, the Washington Post reported. He stepped on a pressure plate rigged to the explosive and triggered the blast. He does not recall any sound, just hitting the ground near the canal and water splashing on his face.

Nicely told the Post: "I remember . . . thinking to myself . . . 'Just keep breathing so you can get back to your wife.' "

Thanks to modern body armor and a helicopter that arrived in just six minutes – as well as quick reactions by his fellow Marines – Nicely became just the second quadruple amputee to survive battlefield injury wounds, CNN reported.

By the end of 2010, Nicely, then 26, had become a good "crane operator," his therapists said, coordinating the mind and muscle skills required to move his prosthetic arms and operate his hands. "It's pretty much like playing a claw machine" at an arcade, he told the Post.

Since then, he's mastered the use of his prosthetic limbs and even re-taught himself to drive, KSDK-5 reported this summer. But his daily life is still a struggle.

To help, the Gary Sinise Foundation, the Steven Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation and other donors funded a new smart home for Nicely and his wife, Crystal, in Lake Ozark, Mo. They received the keys in June.

"Now I'm going to be able to get into my home and live a normal life," Nicely told KSDK-5. "And the most important thing to me about this house is now my wife Crystal is going to get her independence back. She won't have to help me do so much."

Marine Sgt. John Peck

Sgt. John Peck was wounded on May 24, 2010, during his second tour of duty. He had been wounded in Iraq on his first tour, and decided to take the lead that day in Afghanistan.

"None of my guys had combat experience," he recently told fredericksburg.com. "So I decided to take the metal detecting job, which is the guy usually the first in patrol up front, sweeping for land mines, IEDs, everything."

He had just finished checking a compound when he stepped on an IED and was thrown into the air.

"I felt something hit me in the head like a very, very hard rock – or it was my feet. I've come to believe it was my feet."

He woke up weeks later at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, recovering from a medically-induced coma, and underwent dozens of surgeries.

Peck hopes to receive a double-arm transplant, VFW magazine recently reported, and he would like to attend the Culinary Institute of America in New York to become a chef and one day open his own restaurant.

Last summer, on a visit home to Antioch, Ill., Peck leapt from 14,000 feet in a tandem parachute jump at Skydive Midwest in Sturtevant, Wisconsin.

"I've been wanting to do this for a long time. It's sort of a bucket list kind of thing," Peck said before the jump, the Kenosha News reported.

In November, the 27-year-old received a Smart Home in Chancellorsville, Va., from the Tunnels To Towers Foundation and the Gary Sinise Foundation. In the video above, the 3 Roads Crew covered the dedication of his new home, and got a look at some of its features.

"Thank you to everyone," Peck said at the dedication. "Thank you doesn't go far enough. I will never forget this."

He insisted he is not a hero, fredericksburg.com reported. "I find the people who do not come back," he said, "to be the heroes."

Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills

On patrol during his third tour in Afghanistan, Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills put his bag down on an IED. Within seconds of the April 10, 2012, explosion, a fast-working medic affixed tourniquets to all four of Mills' limbs to ensure he wouldn't bleed to death.

"I was yelling at him to get away from me," Mills told the Associated Press. "I told him to leave me alone and go help my guys. And he told me: 'With all due respect, Sgt. Mills, shut up. Let me do my job.'"

The medic was able to save Mills' life but not his limbs.

The Dallas Morning News detailed his emergency and continuing care last summer. Now, his progress with his prosthetic limbs in nearly six months astounds his doctors, NBC25 reported in December.

Mills, home in Vassar, Michigan, on a leave from Walter Reed, told the station his goal is to be the best dad he can for his one-year-old daughter Chloe.

"I said look, she's going to learn how to play softball, I'm going to have to learn how to throw and catch. And if she wants to play volleyball, I'm going to learn how to spike, if she wants to do ballet, I'm going to learn how to do a pirouette," Mills said.

A nonprofit called Fotolanthropy is raising funds on Kickstarter to tell Mills' story. WNEM TV5 reported in December. A four-minute trailer posted on its site shows a different side of Mills, a frequent jokester.

"It's the first time I've ever even brought [the injuries] up where it made me possibly get dust in my eye, I think there was dust in my eye," Mills said. "I wasn't really crying."

Mills and his family blog at http://blog.travismills.org. "To everyone… ," Mills said in December, "my platoon, the flight crew, the doctors and nurses that saved my life, my friends new and old, all the people who support me, and my family… thank you and happy holidays!"

Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Taylor Morris

Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Taylor Morris, 23, a native of Cedar Falls, Iowa, stepped on an IED while on patrol in Afghanistan on May 3, 2012.

"As a member of an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team, his job was one of the most dangerous there is: to lead the way through territory littered with hidden explosives; to clear the way for his brothers-in-arms," President Obama wrote of Morris on Veteran's Day.

"But as Taylor lay there, fully conscious, bleeding to death, he cautioned the medics to wait before rushing his way. He feared another IED was nearby. Taylor's concern wasn't for his own life; it was for theirs.

"Eventually, they cleared the area. They tended to Taylor's wounds. They carried him off the battlefield. And days later, Taylor was carried into Walter Reed, where he became only the fifth American treated there to survive the amputation of all four limbs."

Weeks later, Morris told the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier he was looking forward to "getting up on the [prosthethic] legs and just being able to walk without a limp. And just being as capable as I was before – with the prosthetics."

The president met Morris on a visit to Walter Reed hospital, and presented him with a Purple Heart at the White House in July.

His recovery has "captivated the nation," the president wrote. In this video, Morris and his girlfriend Danielle Kelly danced at a friend's wedding.

And a touching series of images by photographer Tim Dodd told their "Love Story In 22 Pictures."

This month, Morris served as one of eight citizen co-chairs for the president's inauguration. Read a post from Kelly about the experience on www.taylormorris.org.

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