Karzai Deeply Affected by Walter Reed Visit

Brendan Marrocco, 23, works with a trainer at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC.

Judging by Hamid Karzai's public comments, his visit with wounded soldiers at Washington's Walter Reed Hospital on Tuesday had a profound impact on him - one soldier in particular.

"It was a very difficult moment for me," Karzai said at today's press conference with President Obama, "to meet with a young man - a very, very young man, who had lost two arms and legs. It was heart-rendering [sic]."

He was referring to 23-year-old Brendan Marrocco, the first quadruple amputee of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to survive. Brendan was hit by an Iranian-made roadside bomb in Iraq, not Afghanistan. It instantly tore off three of his limbs and left one leg so mangled that doctors had to take that off as well. It also severed his carotid artery. He would have bled to death in minutes except that the heat of the bomb instantly cauterized his wounds.

Brendan Marrocco's American Spirit

That was on Easter Sunday 2009. Brendan is now learning to walk on prosthetic legs, a feat made doubly difficult because he has no arms for balance or to catch himself. He will tell you that losing your arms is much worse than losing your legs. It robs you of the ability to do something as simple as open the refrigerator.

He's been up to the University of Pittsburgh to find out if he's a candidate for an arm transplant. It's been done before, but as a general rule the higher the amputation, the more difficult the transplant. Brendan lost one arm above the elbow and the other just below.

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None of that stops him from talking about the day he starts playing wheelchair basketball. Brendan is determined not to let himself become a prisoner of his wounds - physical or mental. He will tell you he doesn't have any regrets. He'd go right back if he could.

The purpose of taking Karzai to Walter Reed was to show him firsthand the sacrifices American soldiers are making. These days, most of the wounded are from Afghanistan and walking into the physical therapy room is a sight that takes your breath away. Everywhere you look there is another young man or woman, usually with their parents, spouse and/or children, recovering from their amputations. More than a few of them have lost both legs. At Walter Reed, any amputation below the knee is called a "paper cut." Brendan jokes that to him everybody's a paper cut.

Patient privacy laws prevent us from showing what that physical therapy room is really like. Everyone whose face appears on camera has to waive his privacy rights. Brendan signed a waiver so CBS News could do a story about him, but we couldn't show all the other wounded soldiers in that room.

Karzai could see them all, and a person who accompanied him to the hospital said he was "visibly moved." He would have a heart of stone if he wasn't.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.