When Brian Kolfage lost his legs and right arm in an insurgent attack in Iraq, no one was very optimistic.
The 2004 blast in Kuwait, which fell on the third anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, severed his legs and his right arm, near the wrist. Mr Kolfage spent the next eight hours in surgery, where military doctors were planning for the worst.
But eight years later, Mr Kolfage, 30, is not only living, but living to the fullest extent. He is married, and pursuing a degree in architecture at the University of Arizona’s College of Architecture.
Against all odds: Brian Kolfage lost his right arm and both legs in a 2004 attack (and is seen here receiving an award after the attack) but has started a new life, adapting to his limitations
Wedding bells: Kolfage married Ashley Goetz in 2011, saying that it was a ‘dream come true’
Grave injuries: He was badly wounded in the 2004 attack and had more than a dozen surgeries in the months after
Mr Kolfage was stationed at the Air Force base in Kuwait in 2004, and wanted to volunteer at the Balad Air Base in Iraq.
Despite the heavy threat of insurgent attacks, he desperately wanted to go. ‘I didn’t want to sit in Kuwait and do nothing,’ he told azcentral.com.
He said he was ‘ecstatic’ after being offered a last-minute position to volunteer.
In the early morning heat of September 11, 2004, Mr Kolfage walked to his tent to grab a bottle of water. That’s when he heard what sounded like ‘a loud turbine engine’ fly past his head.
It was a large 107-mm mortar shell. The blast nearly liquefied his legs, azcentral.com said, and severed his right arm. ‘I tried standing up, but nothing was working at all.
‘I thought I was dreaming,’ he told the website, remembering being in a haze after the attack.
Baby steps: Kolfage was fitted with prosthetic legs, in addition to his prosthetic arm, and had to relearn how to walk; he uses a cane to keep his balance
Good company: Kolfage, seen here with former President George W. Bush
After fellow soldiers tried to stop the bleeding with towels where his legs should have been, they managed to get him into the medical tent.
From there, Mr Kolfage was taken to Germany for care. After he became more stable, he was flown to Washington D.C., where he underwent 16 surgeries between 2004 and 2005.
Many of the surgeries, he said, were to remove scraps of metal still in his wounds. He also had his left thumb replaced.
Throughout the painful recovery, Mr Kolfage learned –with much frustration and difficulty – to write with his left hand.
He was fitted with a prosthetic arm, as well as legs that allowed him to walk, albeit painfully. Afterward, the former soldier moved to Arizona.
That’s when he contacted a former crush, Ashley Goetz, whom he had met in Texas when he was stationed there.
He contacted the Chili’s hostess via Facebook in 2009 and the two began talking. She originally turned him down because she said she had a boyfriend at the time.
When the two reunited, Ms Goetz said, ‘It was an instant connection. I always had a crush on him and thought he was cute.’
The two married last May.
Throughout the ordeal of losing his limbs, Mr Kolfage never lost his head. He said: ‘I lost my legs but I have my head, my brain. I can do everything I did before mentally.’
He plans to get his graduate degree in architecture and wants to start a family. ‘There is light at the end of the tunnel,’ he said.
‘Your life begins again. It becomes a new normal.’