On Veterans Day, honoring Marine who lost limbs in Afghanistan, but not spirit
Thursday, November 11, 2010; 9:28 AM
The morning that Marine Cpl. Todd A. Nicely received his medal for valor, he and his wife, Crystal, paused in a restroom at Walter Reed Army Medical Center to pull the trousers of his uniform over his artificial legs.
Crystal maneuvered his pants past the carbon fiber feet. Then they fitted the prostheses onto the stumps of Todd's legs.
He put on his tan utility shirt, which she buttoned, attached his artificial left arm and slipped his metal pole crutch onto the stump of his right arm. When he donned his camouflage Marine Corps hat "low on the brow," he was ready.
It was the first time in six months that he had been back in his "cammies" - since the day in March when he had stepped on the explosive device in Afghanistan that tore off his hands and lower legs.
The blast broke his jaw, punctured his ear drums and left him, according to the latest statistics, one of only three men - a soldier and two Marines - from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to survive an attack as a quadruple amputee.
They now top a grim hierarchy of more than 1,100 military amputees from the two conflicts, which includes 21 people who have lost three limbs, 258 who have lost two and 832 who have lost one.
Nicely's wounds resulted from an explosive encountered on a foot patrol; his survival stemmed from good body armor and quick life-saving actions by comrades.
In the months since his injury, Nicely, 26, has endured numerous surgeries. He has cycled through three kinds of artificial legs and worked with three types of artificial arms.
He has had to strengthen his butt muscles to help operate his computerized legs and learn to use his shoulder muscles to help activate his artificial arms.
Nicely has spent weeks at Walter Reed learning to stand, walk, climb stairs, zip a zipper and unscrew a bottle cap. He still often needs someone to light his cigarettes for him as he motors around the hospital campus with an artificial arm sticking out of the back pouch of his wheelchair.
He is thin, thoughtful and bespectacled and is slightly taller on his mechanical legs than before - 5-foot-9 vs. 5-foot-8.