One U.S. Soldier's Hope for New Arms

Brendan Marrocco lost four limbs to an IED in Northern Iraq.
Brendan Marrocco lost four limbs to an IED in Northern Iraq. /images/2010/05/30/image6532738.jpg

This Memorial Day weekend began with news that the United States has suffered its 1,000th death from direct military action in Afghanistan. In Iraq, the U.S. death toll stands at 4,400. Our national security correspondent David Martin tells us that's one less than it might have been ...

No one ever came closer to becoming one of the fallen than Brendan Marrocco.

"I wasn't expected to live. I died three times and came back," he said. "Flat-out dead."

It happened Easter Sunday 2009 in northern Iraq, when an Iranian-made roadside bomb launched a red hot projectile into his vehicle.

"It went straight through my door and it took both arms, my left leg off completely, and my right leg was still attached a little bit, and killed my gunner and best friend," Marrocco said.

What does he remember?

"I remember the flash, the sounds, it was ridiculously loud," he said. "I remember all the screaming in the truck to try to see who was hurt. I had no idea I was hurt because I didn't feel anything.

"After that, I remember waking up in the hospital."

Marrocco woke up as the only soldier to have survived the loss of all four limbs. He also has a nasty scar on his neck where his carotid artery was severed. "That alone should have killed me," he said.

"Why didn't you bleed to death?" Martin asked.

"It's a copper dart, which is molten, so it's extremely hot," Marrocco said. "So as it went by, it completely cauterized my wounds, so I was barely bleeding from them."

The same weapon that took all his body parts saved his life.

Imagine - 22 years old, waking up to find you have no arms or legs.

"I think I was just more happy to be alive than upset," Marrocco said. "I'm still alive. I mean, my buddy wasn't as fortunate and he wasn't hurt near as bad as I was."

"What I'm trying to figure out, if you're the luckiest or unluckiest guy in the world," Martin said.

"A little bit of both, I guess," he replied.

The physical therapy room at Walter Reed is filled with young men who are a little bit of both.

More than 1,000 servicemen and women have lost an arm or a leg over the course of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Twenty percent of them have lost more than one.

Brendan was the first to come in here without any limbs, but now there is a second, a Marine from Afghanistan, who is not yet ready to appear on television. You can only hope he has the same frame of mind as Brendan Marrocco.

"I just want to keep progressing, keep going and doing more stuff," Marrocco said. "I don't want to live a life where I just sit and do nothing with my life."

That means learning to walk again on prosthetic legs: "I love walking. I love it. I mean, I'm just not at the point where I can wear them all the time. I wish I was."

"You think you'll get there?" asked Martin.

"Oh, of course, yeah. No doubt about it."

Brendan knows the answer to a question the rest of us will never have to answer: "Which is harder, the lack of arms or the lack of legs?" Martin asked.

"The lack of arms, by far," Marrocco said. "I can't reach into a fridge and take out a drink. I can't, you know, open up a can of soda. There's just so much that you can do with your arms that you don't realize until they're gone."

Without arms, you can't push your wheelchair, but Brendan's got someone to help with that - his fiancé, Kate Barto.

Amid all his pain and loss, Brendan found love at Walter Reed.

"Did you feel sorry for him?" asked Martin.

"No. Not at all," said Barto. "He's such an incredible person and people don't need to feel sorry for him. He's going to do some great things in his life."

Beginning with new arms - and not artificial ones. "I'll have arms just like you," Marrocco said.

He's talking about arm transplants, a technique still in its infancy. Former Marine Josh Maloney, who received a hand transplant, told CBS News correspondent Wyatt Andrews what it difference it made:

"I can feel the soft touch up to there. I can feel hot and cold," Maloney said.

Brendan is talking about a quantum leap beyond that: Both arms.

"So they can do an arm transplant above the elbow?" Martin asked.

"They can, yeah," he said. "They've done one or two so far where I'm going."

That's true, but there are complications, including the anti-rejection drugs he would have to take for the rest of his life, which would increase the risk of a fatal infection . . . none of which discourages Brendan.

"I'm looking forward to playing some wheelchair basketball once I get my arms," he said.

It is a long, long road which at times must seem overwhelming. Martin suggested it would be so easy for Marrocco to be bitter and depressed. "Yeah, there's a lot of guys that are," he said.

"But you just don't seem to have that in you," Martin said.

"I don't know what it is, but I'm very fortunate, very fortunate to not have that outlook," he replied.

When you first see Brendan Marrocco, it's hard to think of him as very fortunate. After you talk with him, you understand exactly what he means.