Sgt John Peck
In 2007, Sgt. John Peck, formerly of Antioch, IL, was serving in Al Anbar province, Iraq when he was first wounded. After a day long patrol searching for Taliban, receiving small arms fire, finding a cache of HME (Home Made Explosives), waiting for his unit’s EOD team, it was time to go back to base. He was manning the machine gun for the lead vehicle, as it rounded a corner the vehicle was hit by a pressure initiated IED. He was thrown from his seat and smashed his head into the machine gun. He remembers fragments from that night. As a result, John was left with vision, balance, and hearing problems. He also suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI), and suffered short- and long-term memory loss, forgetting everything up to the point of the injury. Twenty-one years of memories were gone. He had to learn everything all over again. To this day he continues to have problems remembering things from before incident, difficulty finding words, and short term memory issues.
His first injury didn’t stop him from going back to serve his country. He had to beg and plead with doctors to release him from limited duty. You’re probably wondering at this point why? Why would he go back and not just take the medical discharge? “As a Marine, we don’t do it for the pay or the benefits, we go back for the guys on our left and on our right.”
However, on May 24, 2010, life once again changed dramatically for John. At the age of 24, Sgt. Peck was serving in Helmand province, Afghanistan when he stepped on an IED and triggered an explosion that would change his life forever. The resulting blast amputated his legs, part of his right arm, damaged his left arm, and caused third-degree burns on his stomach.
Sgt. Peck is one of only two people alive to survive blood contamination by the flesh-eating fungus, Aspergillosis. As a result of complications from surgery, doctors were forced to amputate part of his left arm, making him the third quadruple amputee of the Afghan and Iraq wars.
Through the blast and twenty-seven different surgeries, John received forty-one pints of blood, thirty-five units of plasma and five units of platelets, and at one point bled out completely. He was medically sedated from late May to early August, during which he endured daily surgeries to clean out debris and dead flesh and to fight the infection that was slowly spreading through his body. At one point his family received the heartbreaking news that John was living minute to minute and the doctors, sadly, suggested they say their last goodbyes. During his surgeries, he flat lined three times and was pronounced dead once.
By the time his body finally started to fight back against the multiple infections attacking it, he was left with his right arm amputated above the elbow, left arm amputated at the mid forearm, and right leg amputated just above the knee. He is also missing his left bicep, the first layer of abdominal muscles and his entire left leg due to the flesh-eating fungus. The complete loss of his leg means he’s forced to sit on his pelvic bone – a painful task with which he has learned to cope. When he awoke in early August he was informed by his family of his extensive injuries, sedation, and near death experiences. Because of his tracheal tube, he couldn’t speak without using a special device. In order to have the tube removed, he had to perform swallow tests which are where the doctor’s thread a small camera down your throat and feed you small amounts of food and liquid to see if your throat can handle it. “I remember all I wanted was a Mountain Dew and they couldn’t let me have it. One day a nurse walked in with a small can, popped it open and poured it into a bag. She left a second can behind and I, thinking it was soda, told her, ‘As soon as you leave that’s mine!’ I soon came to find it was medication.”
When he woke up he couldn’t move any part of his body. He had no strength to lift his limbs nor any range of motion so he had to be stretched out daily. However, there was a problem, John’s skin had become hypersensitive to touch. In short, the minute anyone made contact with him he was in enormous amounts of pain.
After years of recovery, John is now equipped with prosthetics, an all-terrain wheelchair outfitted with tank-like treads, and other equipment to supports his needs.
Every year John’s determination inspires those around him – from jumping out of a plane to scuba diving in Key West, and even completing fifty miles on a hand cycle. John also has a passion for helping those who have fallen on hard times: “I was raised by a single mother and every Christmas it was a financial struggle for her. You could see the pain in her eyes as the need to put food on the table outweighed the Christmas wishes of her young son. After my injuries, I vowed I would help as many families as I possibly could at Christmas time.” In 2011 he started at a Target in Washington, D.C. – helping a single mother purchase gifts for her daughter and surprising the woman with a gift as well. In 2012, after moving to his new home, he helped another mother with two children in Wal-Mart. In 2013 he changed his method and instead of approaching families, he decided to go to layaway and pay off three random accounts with toys on them.
John was recently approved for a double arm transplant. Through multiple tests including; skin type, blood draws, mental exams, vein mapping, and ultrasounds, the doctors determined he was a strong candidate. He is currently waiting for the call that will take him to Boston and give him back his arms.
For the first year following the procedure, John and a caretaker will have to travel up to Boston every three months to ensure everything is healing properly, which means hotel rooms, gas, and meals. After that first year, he will have to return to Boston every six months for the next five years, and will need to take immune suppressants for the rest of his life so his body doesn’t reject the transplant. Although the double arm transplant is a miracle of the 21st century, it will also be an expensive and long-term recovery for him and his family.
John’s dream is to be a chef – since he was 12 he has had a passion for cooking. After losing his arms, many people thought he would give up but that’s not the case. He may not be able to be as hands-on in the kitchen as before but that doesn’t stop him from instructing, tasting and completing simpler tasks. His own personal hero? “Robert Irvine. He’s an awesome chef, he helps people who are in need and he’s like a British version of The Hulk!”