War hero who lost all four limbs in bomb blast and had double arm transplant couldn’t wait to hold fiance’s hand in his on their wedding day

JOHN Peck stared out of his hospital window, thinking of ways to end his own life.


The US marine was just 24 when he lost both arms and legs after stepping on an explosive device in Afghanistan in 2010, and he felt hopeless.


John Peack John Peck undergoes rehab on one of his new arms at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland
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“I came up with an actual plan to commit suicide,” he said.


But down on the street something caught his eye – a triple amputee with his wife, holding the hand of a little girl.


“If he can find love,” thought John, “Why can’t I?”


It was a turning point for the former soldier who threw himself into rehab and joined a dating site, finding romance with waitress Jessica Parker.


John lost both arms and both legs in an explosion in 2010

The relationship spurred him on to seek a rare double arm transplant –he is only the second serviceman to have had the op in the US – so he could hold Jess’s hand on their wedding day.


Now the life-changing surgery and his amazing progress is featured on the Channel 5 documentary The Man With Another Man’s Arms, which airs tonight.


‘My mum had to tell me I’d lost my arms and legs’


John, now 31, was on patrol in Helmand Province when he stepped on an IED in an abandoned village and was “blown through the air.”


Two months later he woke up in a US hospital, having been heavily sedated since his arrival.


“I could feel the blanket on me but I couldn’t move a single part of my body,” he recalled.


“My mum had to tell me I had lost my arms and legs because I still felt them.”


While in hospital, John ‘died’ twice – with doctors declaring his time of death on one occasion.


He also developed a flesh-eating fungus which ate the remainder of his left leg, up to the hip, and part of his abdominal muscle.


John as a young marine before the Iraq blast which took his limbs
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When his 18-month marriage also collapsed, John gave up hope.


“I became isolated, I stopped going to therapy, I went down into my little dark spot.”


‘I cried for the man who had died and donated his arms’


But after spotting the family of the other amputee on the street, John decided “I really did not want to die.”


He began daily rehab, went to therapy and taught himself to function with prosthetic arms and legs.


After researching treatments, he also contacted a specialist transplant unit at a Boston hospital, and after months of assessments, was put on a waiting list.


John was under heavy sedation in hospital for two months after the blast
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And he plucked up the courage to join dating app Match.com – where waitress Jess spotted his profile and got in touch.


“I don’t laugh out loud when I read things but I kept laughing,” she told the show. “He’s the opposite of my type but I dated someone who was exactly my type and it was terrible.”


Five months into the relationship, John got the call he’d been waiting for – a donor had been found and the double arm transplant could go ahead.


Jess supported him through the transplant even though she was worried about the risks
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“I lay on the couch and started to break down crying because I was happy,” he said.


“Then my mood switched and I started crying for the person who just died, even though I didn’t know their name. I just felt bad for someone out there because they are willing to donate their son’s, husband’s or boyfriend’s arms.”


‘Not worth dying for’


Although he was determined to go through with the op, Jess was not keen.


“It’s not that I didn’t support him but I didn’t think it was worth the risk because he could have died in surgery,” she admitted. “I didn’t think it was worth him dying for.”


John is assessed for the operation at the Boston hospital
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The 16 hour op, carried out by Dr Simon Talbot, involves joining the bones together with metal plates, then using precision instruments to stitch together arteries and veins, then repair muscles and tendons before connecting John’s nerves to the donor arms.


The surgery went well and an elated John is seen in a video joking “I’m a real boy now” shortly afterwards.


‘I was about to beg to have them cut off again’


But the post-op euphoria was short-lived and the numbing effects of sedation soon wore off.


“That night the pain was so bad I was seconds away from asking them to amputate my arms again,” he said.


“I was about to buzz for the nurse but I started thinking about my donor and I thought ‘my donor died so I can’t go through all this and then have my arms amputated again.’”


Jess helped John through the difficult period after the op

John then had to embark on a gruelling daily workout to gain strength in his arms and hands.


His new relationship would also be tested as Jess had to do everything for him for weeks after the op.


“We couldn’t be apart for more than 15 minutes,” she said.


“You couldn’t scratch your nose, drink anything, go to the bathroom.”


John added: “She had never helped me with the most personal things up until then, like going to the loo. I would never ask a girlfriend to do that.”


It was almost a year before he could clean his teeth and, two years on, he still struggles to hold a bottle, open a container or pick up a burger.


The brave ex-marine has rehab to help gauge feeling in his fingers
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“People think you attach your hands and then, bang, you get your finger back and your arms will work like that used to,” he said. “That’s not the case.”


As John’s nerves have to grow the full length of the donor arm – at a rate of an inch a month – he is still slowly gaining sensation in his hands and lower arms and is vulnerable to injury.


He said: “We were at Wholefoods and I put my right arm against a steamer tray and I burned myself but I couldn’t feel it. When we got home I took off my sweater and there was a big old blister.”


But John can now drive, dress himself and cook and is self-sufficient enough for Jess to leave him for a weekend.


John said he loved being in the marines before his accident
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‘We don’t know how long they will last’


Despite daily improvements, John still faces the prospect of rejection and is forced to take pills to suppress his immune system to stop it attacking his new limbs.


And it’s not known how long John’s new limbs will keep working for.


He said: “We know they can last 20 years but we don’t know if they will last 30 or 40.”


The prospect of re-amputation is something that frightens John.


“I’m still worried today,” he said. “It’s still a big deal. There’s a chance that it might not work and I have to go back to being a quad amputee.”


John has a passion for cooking and can now make a meal
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John struggles to open his hair gel and resorts to using his teeth
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Brave John, who has thousands of followers on a Facebook page documenting his journey, is now writing a book and hopes to become a motivational speaker.


But whatever the future holds, brave John says he has been through the worst.


“I think my hardest battles have been fought and won.


“Accepting I was a quad amputee, accepting what happened to me, going through the arm transplant and finding love were the four hardest battles. The rest is a cake walk for me.”


His next ambition was to walk down the aisle with Jessica.


“One day very soon,” he said shortly after the op. “I’ll be able to hold Jessica’s hand and actually be able to feel it.


“I want to be able to walk down the aisle with prosthetic legs and take Jessica’s hand in mine on the happiest day of my life.”


In 9 December 2016, his dream finally came true when the inspiring couple tied the knot – and John got to hold his new wife’s hand in his.


The Man With Another Man’s Arms airs tonight on Channel 5 at 10pm


War hero who lost all four limbs in bomb blast and had double arm transplant couldn’t wait to hold fiance’s hand in his on their wedding day

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