Wounded warrior builds new life after losing three limbs in Afghanistan

2013-06-01T00:00:00Z 2013-06-03T11:08:35Z Wounded warrior builds new life after losing three limbs in AfghanistanMarisa Kwiatkowski marisa.kwiatkowski@nwi.com, (219) 662-5333 nwitimes.com

Retired Master Sgt. John Masson vowed losing both legs and part of his left arm in Afghanistan would not keep him from walking again.

The Lake Station native, who suffered his injuries in 2010 after stepping on an improvised explosive device, started with short prosthetic legs and his body strapped to an elevated bed. The more he worked, the taller doctors allowed his prosthetic legs to become.

Masson said he fell so many times that all he could do was laugh. But eventually, his prosthetic legs were long enough to make him 5 feet 10 inches tall.

Masson's wife, Dustina, cried when her husband took those first steps after suffering his injuries.

But Masson said he didn't. He was too busy smiling.

"To be able to look eye to eye with other people, down on little kids," Masson said. "It's an amazing feeling. It's wonderful."

Masson, now 41, spent nearly two years recovering and in physical therapy at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. He and his family moved back to North Carolina last August.

Masson formally retired from the U.S. Army on Christmas Day. His retirement ended a 17-year military career — four years in the U.S. Army and 13 years in the National Guard, where he was a special forces medic with a Ranger tab.

"It was bittersweet," Masson said. "It was hard to look at all my buddies continuing to fight with the war. ... I know I'll never be a part of that. I still want to be able to give for my country. At the same time ... I can at least say I survived this war. I don't have to go back there."

In the 2 1/2 years since the IED blast, Masson said he has learned to focus on what he can do rather than what he can't.

"Life is good no matter what circumstances may be," he said. "It's about finding out how much and what I can do. One lost hobby leads to the open doors of another that I can accomplish."

Masson said he gravitated toward hand-cycling as exercise and an outlet for his urge to move. He's participated in two marathons and other rides, including a six-day trek from New Orleans to Tallahassee, Fla.

Masson said he still has bad days, days when people's stares bother him. He said he wishes he could spend more time in his prosthetic legs, but they are extremely uncomfortable because he has no thigh bone on his right side.

Even so, Masson said he can't wallow in self-pity when there are other members of the military — many of whom are much younger than he is — in the hospital, too.

"I could never stop one time and feel sorry for myself," Masson said. "I was 40 years old and had how many years in the military and three kids. ... It was a different situation for me."

Masson said he is grateful to be alive.

He is finishing up his associate degree at Fayetteville Community College and then plans to transfer to get his bachelor's degree in a medical field or in Arabic.

Masson and his family live in an apartment while they are waiting for their new home to be built. They sold their old home because it was too difficult for Masson to get up and down the stairs.

The Massons' new home will be built by Building for America's Bravest, a partnership between the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation and the Gary Sinise Foundation. The group builds custom-designed "smart homes" with automation and accessibility for severely injured military personnel to help them lead more independent lives, according to its website.

Masson said his family will use money previously donated by Northwest Indiana residents to build the house. He said he continues to be amazed by the outpouring of support and would like to find a way to give back to a region that has done so much for him and his family.

"I can't say thank you enough," Masson said. "Words alone can't express how grateful we are for what people have done and what they continue to do.

"We're the best country in the world and from the best region in the United States."

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