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When Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills regained consciousness, he was lying in a bed in Walter Reed hospital after being severely wounded in Afghanistan in April 2012. The first thing he wanted to know was whether the other soldiers in his unit were all right.
After Sgt. Mills was reassured his men were OK despite the IED detonation that nearly killed him, he had another question. He had no feeling in his arms and legs.
"Am I paralyzed?" he asked Josh Buck, a fellow warrior and his brother-in-law, who refused to leave his bedside.
"No, man," Josh said, as recounted in Mills new book "Tough as They Come." "You're not paralyzed."
"You don't need to lie to me," Mills replied. "I can take it."
Josh knew his friend would want the truth.
"I'm going to tell it to you straight," he said. "You're not paralyzed. But both your arms and legs are gone."
With those words, Mills learned the bitter truth: He would live the rest of his life as a quadruple amputee — one of just five in that condition to survive the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
As a high school football star and a member of the legendary 82nd Airborne Division, Mills was a natural leader who focused on accomplishing his mission while protecting the members of his team and family. Now, he would begin the greatest battle of his life.
His first big hurdle was the intense pain he would experience in the arms and legs he no longer had — a common condition for amputees. Known as phantom pain, in Mills' case they were unbelievably intense. Even repeated doses of morphine were insufficient to calm down his traumatized nervous system.
Mills' pain was so intense he told his doctors he wanted to die. They offered him an experimental treatment. They said they could give him a drug called Ketamine that would send him into a deep coma, and keep him there for five days.
Then slowly, they would bring him back. Doctors hoped the process would be like rebooting a computer, giving his body a chance to begin sending more normal pain signals to his brain. Desperate for relief, he agreed.
When doctors weaned him off the drug days later, Mills began to experience hallucinations. One moment, he would be fighting alongside Genghis Kahn, the next he would look outside his window and see a SWAT team bursting into the hospital. Then, he was playing hockey for the NHL's Washington Capitals, and later, talking with Kramer from Seinfeld.
But it worked. In the days that followed, he emerged largely pain-free. He was determined to walk out of the hospital one day and resume his life with wife Kelsey and daughter Chloe.
"Somewhere along the process," he wrote, "I decided not to be known as a 'wounded warrior.'"
He said "if you still think of yourself as 'wounded,' then you're still focusing on your injury. I wasn't going to do that. I was healed. I had my scars, but I was the same 'me' as I'd always been."
The book chronicles Mills' difficult march — learning to use his prostheses, how to drive a car, and moving into a special smart home that would help him to overcome his physical challenges.
Today, Mills is a motivational speaker and best-selling author whose message is to live life to its fullest and never quit.
He told Newsmax his latest endeavor is TravisMills.org, a foundation that helps service members who have suffered traumatic injuries.
"We say, 'Thank you for your service, don't live life on the sidelines, be a functioning member in your family and your society, and you can still do things adaptively with your family.' And it has a great effects," he said.
So is Travis Mills really as "tough as they come?"
Having found a path forward, despite all he has been through, he is certainly tough enough.
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