By Karen Zautyk
Every once in awhile, someone comes into your life, by accident, by fate, by the grace of God, perhaps. And they have the power to affect your life in ways deep and significant. They can help you begin to see the world, and yourself, with new eyes. And the irony of it all is that this life-changer is someone you’ve never met, a complete stranger who has not the slightest idea of how deeply he is affecting others — just by being himself. Such a person is Sgt. Brendan Marrocco.
If you know his story, you know what I mean. If you don’t know it, it’s time you learned it. It is dramatic, and it keeps getting more so.
We first learned of Brendan in 2010, through his aunt Pat Collins of Kearny, who asked if The Observer could promote a fund-raiser being held for her nephew at the Scots- American Club. At the time, Brendan had been in Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington for a year — and he would spend another 12 months there. And then return.
There wil be another Scots- American event next month. More about that later, but first a soldier’s story:
On Easter Sunday, April 12, 2009, Army Spc. Brendan Marrocco, Second Battalion, 27th Infantry, was on active duty in Iraq, returning to his base 130 miles from Baghdad when his vehicle was hit by an explosive device.
Brendan suffered a shrapnel injury to his left eye, broken nose and shattered facial bones, severe facial lacerations, burns to the neck and face, and a severed carotid artery.
He also lost both arms and both legs.
He is the only surviving quadruple amputee from the Iraq/Afghanistan conflicts. Neither Brendan nor the other members of his family wanted the spotlight, but once the world’s media heard his story–and met with this exceptional young soldier–he could not avoid it. For Brendan, now 27, is one of those incredible individuals who dwells, not on his problems, but his hopes for the future; not on the negative, but the positive, and not on himself, but on the needs of others.
Did we mention he was exceptional?
Newspapers and networks followed his progess at Walter Reed as he was fitted with and learned to adjust to prosthetic arms and legs.
And then, in December 2012, Brendan made history at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, becoming the first patient there — and only the sixth in the U.S. — to undergo a successful double arm transplant. Brendan was found to be a match for the deceased, unnamed donor, and for 13 hours a team of surgeons connected bones, blood vessels, muscles, tendons, nerves and skin. The lead surgeon called it “the most extensive and complicated limb transplant procedure to be performed in the U.S.”
At a January press conference, held after it was apparent his body would not reject the transplants, Brendan commented, “It gives me a lot of hope for the future.”
Last week, we talked with Brendan’s father, Alex Marrocco, who told us that his son is now back at Walter Reed, undergoing physical therapy and rehab. “He has movement in his hands, fingers and elbows,” Alex said. “The doctors are very pleased with his progress. He is able to do simple tasks, and they will continue to work with him to improve his mobility.”
Alex also gave a salute to his other son, Michael, 29, who “has been with Brendan for the last four years as his nonmedical attendant.” That’s 24/7. That’s also the definition of brotherly love.
Prior to the transplant surgery, Michael and Brendan had been sharing a home in the Prince’s Bay area of Staten Island, a home built specifically for the soldier thanks to donations raised from across the nation by Building Homes for Heroes and the Stephen Siller Tunnel- to-Towers Foundation (which honors one of N.Y.C. firefighters killed on 9/11.)
It was equipped with ramps and an elevator and adjustable countertops — all the devices that make a home completely handicapaccessible, Alex told us. The ribbon-cutting took place and Brendan was given the keys June 11, 2011, soon after he had left Walter Reed for the first time. All was well. . . . until Oct. 29, 2012.
Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc not only on the Jersey Shore. Staten Island was devastated too. Luckily, Michael and Brendan were not at home when the storm struck, because his new house on the island’s south shore was in Sandy’s crosshairs.
Alex told us that water had gotten into the first floor and that “we had to gut the entire floor.” The Marroccos are now looking to raise the structure. “We’ve been working with the city Building Department to come up with a repair plan.”
Immediately after the storm, The New York Times tracked Alex to a Home Depot where he was buying equipment to clean out the sand and muck and mud, and he told the reporter, “…. it’s one of those things. Realistically, we’re a lot better off than other people. So we’re thankful.” Like sons, like father.
Now, about that upcoming Kearny fundraiser for the Brendan Marrocco Road to Recovery Trust.
It is scheduled from 7 to 11 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 19, once again at the Scots- American Club, 40 Patterson St. It was at the Scots Club (whose president Joseph Collins is Brendan’s uncle) where that first ever benefit for the soldier was held in 2010. That event was sold out, and it is hoped this one will be just as successful.
Tickets are $30 and can be reserved by calling Pat Collins at 201-998-3011 and picked up at the club.
Brendan, of course, can’t be there, but dad Alex plans to attend.
“We have had a lot of support from folks in New Jersey,” he told us. “I’d like to extend my gratitude to them for all the help we’ve received in the last four years.”