WEEKI WACHEE, Fla. — A Weeki Wachee Army veteran who lost his right arm and leg in Afghanistan in 2010 is now helping to lead a new charge -- a major push forward in the study and engineering of prosthetic limbs.
- Cicero working with Walter Reed National Medical Center since 2015
- Cicero's prosthetics attached at the bone, unlike traditional artificial limbs
- Back home, Cicero helps teach gun safety, self-defense
Sergeant Rick Cicero’s medical journey brought us to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. It’s a hospital the 48-year-old is intimately familiar with.
“Since October of 2015, I’ve been here just about 1 week every month since then,” said Cicero.
The Army veteran is a double amputee, and he’s making history at Walter Reed Bethesda as a medical study test subject.
“I’m lucky because I know how blessed I am, and I can count my blessings,” he said.
In 2010, Cicero was a working as a military contractor in Afghanistan when an improvised explosive device took out his right arm and right leg. But it isn’t what he lost; instead, it’s what he gained years after that near death experience that makes him unique.
“This is true "Bionic Man" stuff coming to light,” he said.
Cicero has a battery-powered arm that moves when he thinks it, just like his natural one. Even more amazing, his robotic arm is attached to bone, the result of an experimental procedure that is relatively new to the U.S.
“This is life changing," Cicero said. "I could only imagine where I would be if I had this seven years ago and what I could’ve done."
Osseointegration of prosthetic limbs is being studied by the Department of Defense at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. In March, Cicero had the surgery again, so that he could attach a prosthetic leg straight to his thigh bone.
“It’s just gonna click on -- what takes me now about 3 minutes on a good day and 5 minutes on a rough day to put on will take me a whopping 10 seconds.” Cicero adds, “I won’t have to live with the extra weight, won’t have to live with the plastic. I won’t have to live with the additional sweating.”
It’s a massive upgrade from traditional socket-based prosthetic limbs, and comes with a big distinction. Cicero is the first person in the U.S. to have osseointegration in both an upper and lower limb.
“I want to push this technology and devices as far as they can possibly go," Cicero said. "I want to challenge the young prosthetists and engineers to create the most functional devices.
"I can care less what they look like," Cicero continued. "I want to give everybody that ever walks in my boots the opportunity to live life, enjoy it and not question that these things are available to them and use these tools and make them run."
Make them run he does. Despite his devastating injuries, Cicero has trained K9s, shoots, and teaches martial arts.
Clearly, limb loss hasn’t stopped the Army veteran. Instead, it has thrust him into a life-changing journey to advance the study of osseointegration and ultimately help improve the lives of countless other amputees.
“If I can be the face that does that, and I can continue to support our team that’s doing this for our country every day, then by God that’s what I want to do,” he said.