A month after a bomb detonated in his hands while in Afghanistan, Marine staff sergeant Mark Burleson awoke in incredible pain, according to ABC News. The December 2011 explosion burned him, shattered bones, inflicted a brain injury, paralyzed his left arm and blew off his right arm below the elbow.
"All the nerves were ripped from my spinal cord at the root," Burleson reportedly said. "It felt like someone was lighting my arm on fire with a cutting torch. And, occasionally, they'd stop and tie anchors to the ends of my fingers to rip out the bones."
Even the most powerful of drugs could not ease the father-of-three’s chronic pain.
"It was to the point where the kids would just walk past him because they know he couldn't bear to interact with them," his wife, Sara, added.
In a desperate effort to ease his pain and lead a normal life, Burleson volunteered for a risky surgical procedure in which his spine would be opened and the offending nerves would be singed.
Neurosurgeon Dr. Allan Belzberg of the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore performs the surgery fewer than five times a year and only when every other option has been explored.
With the aid of a microscope and a tiny electrode, Belzberg burned the impaired nerves hanging from Burleson’s spinal cord. These damaged nerves intertwined with healthy connections to the lower limbs. If the doctor made the slightest mistake, he could’ve paralyzed Burleson’s leg.
The six-hour surgery transformed Burleson’s chronic pain level and he recalled feeling “instant clarity.”
“Doc, I could marry you,” he reportedly told Belzberg.
Now, Burleson is able to interact with his wife and children. He feels that Belzberg is the hero who saved his life.
"This is a guy who's so tough he diffuses bombs for a living," Belzberg said. "It is so humbling. He's the real hero."