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Marine’s long road to recovery

Marine Cpl. John Peck 24 was wounded when his vehicle hit an IED May 23 2010 while serving Iraq.

Marine Cpl. John Peck, 24, was wounded when his vehicle hit an IED May 23, 2010, while serving in Iraq.

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Wounded Warrior Regiment

Cpl. Peck is being helped by the Marine’s Wounded Warrior Regiment, a unit of the U.S. Marines that assists wounded servicemen and their families from the point of injury to when they transition either back to duty or to civilian life.

Capt. Jill Leyden, public affairs officer for Wounded Warrior Regiment, said the Marine Corps is a family. Even when Peck leaves active duty, he will continue to be supported by Marines. “Once a Marine, always a Marine,” she said. “We have detachments across the globe and at most of the major treatment facilities, including Walter Reed. There is a staff of Marines who assist Cpl. Peck day to day in addition to medical staff,” said Leyden. “He is a perfect example of how spirit and attitude can carry you through the recovery process. He is an inspiration.”

Updated: April 2, 2011 5:38PM

Marine Cpl. John Peck may have lost his legs and arms in an IED explosion in Afghanistan, but he hasn’t lost his heart.

Peck, 25, a graduate of Antioch Community High School, was a member of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines Weapons Company serving in Helmand Province in Afghanistan. He was critically wounded May 23 after he stepped on an improvised explosive device and lost both his legs and arms.

He was in a medically-induced coma for two and a half months, underwent multiple surgeries and recovered from a life-threatening infection.

He has received the Purple Heart, awarded to all armed services members wounded or killed in combat.

He is continuing his recovery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where he talked cheerfully about his plans from his hospital bed after returning from his regimen of 2.5 hours of daily physical therapy.

“I wake up at 7:30 and go to therapy from 8 to 10:30, lifting weights, stretching, standing up, and concentrating on what is left of my arms and legs,” Peck said, summarizing a typical day. “I eat lunch, have another hour of therapy, eat dinner and goof off. I have a good group of buddies here. We are close-knit, all recovering from various injuries.”

He said his new friends cheer him up when he is sad, but claims that most of the time he has a positive attitude. “I can’t understand why I am positive when something so negative happened to me.”

Maybe he is positive because he is grateful to be alive, he said.

“When I woke up from my coma, I was in a good mood, and then shocked when I realized half my body was gone. It took me a while to process all the information.”

The hardest part of dealing with his loss of limbs is going from one extreme to another, he said. “I have been totally independent since I turned 18. Now I have to rely on someone else for everything. It threw me off. I can’t ever get used to it. I am uncomfortable with people feeding me, for example.”

His issues aren’t unusual for any amputee, he believes. “People stare. If it’s little kids, I don’t do or say anything. But if it is an adult I will call them out.”

His attitude is feisty, in part from necessity. While his recovery is nothing short of miraculous, he has been plagued by personal problems that sometimes angered him, but more recently he accepts them as part of his new life.

“My wife left me because of my injuries. We’ve been separate since September, and we are divorcing. She realized she would have to take care of me, so she walked out.”

He says he is at peace with his situation and relies only marginally on support from other family members. His family includes parents Zenio and Lisa Krutyholowa, who live in Antioch Township.

Right now what is keeping him optimistic about his recovery is the possibility of a double arm and hand transplant. The first successful double-arm transplant was done in Germany in 2008, and he is in the initial stages of being assessed for a similar surgery.

“The surgeons would take cadaver arms and attach the nerves, tendons and muscles to my body and give me titanium bones. They would pretty much give me back my arms. It has been done successfully five times,” said Peck, explaining surgery would be done at the same time on both arms, with the arms and hands coming from the same donor. “I am waiting for approval, and if I get the okay, I would be transferred to a university hospital in Pittsburg where I would go through many tests and doctors would grow additional skin to be used in the surgery. It is a complicated and long process, but this could mean a more independent future for me.”

“I am going to try everything I can do to get the transplant and to have hands again, but if I have to use prosthetics for the rest of my life I will adapt to that and strive to be as independent as possible.”

His long-term plan is to attend the Culinary Institute of America and pursue a career as a chef.

“As far as money goes, I am going to try and invest funds that have been raised on my behalf so it is not spent away. I am still getting paid until I am separated from the Marines. After that, I will received 100 percent disability with benefits.”

What does he want people to know about his experience and his new reality?

“Give a damn about your troops. Don’t just say it. Stop griping about the little crap in your life. There is so much being done by our military for your benefit, and nobody understands its extent unless they see it themselves or a loved one goes through it. Put your little differences aside and care about someone else besides yourself.”

He said that if every person in the U.S. gave a one-time $5 donation to a charity that supports the troops it would be really helpful.

“My arm, which is only a temporary arm, costs $10,000. There are a lot of expenses that must be paid to equip an injured soldier. Give to charities, or otherwise go up to someone in the military and offer to pay for a meal or do something special for them. Get to know them. Write them letters. Send care packages to random troops you don’t know because guys are really bummed out when mail call comes and there is no package for them.”

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