By KEVIN CHIRI
Tammany news bureau
COVINGTON – Ever since Perry Pezzarossi was involved in a serious accident in 1992 while serving with the U.S. Army’s Armored Calvary Regiment in Fort Bliss, Tex. he has dealt with arm pain so severe that he honestly wanted to cut his arm off.
“That’s what I would deal with many mornings,” he said. “No matter how much treatment I got or how many doctors I saw, the pain was so bad that I had many days when I thought about cutting my arm off.”
While that is something others have facetiously said on occasion when dealing with severe pain in their body, Pezzarossi was finally faced with that real possibility after a second accident in 2012 made things even worse.
The two accidents eventually led to a condition known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) in his hand and going up his arm. It led doctors to finally recommend him for an experimental medical trial to receive a state-of-the-art bionic hand, something that required him to accept the fate of having his hand cut off, including half of his forearm.
Pezzarossi said it took almost a year to come to terms with that reality, but after the surgery was completed on August 25 he is now making trips to the Utah Slanted Electrode Array Study at the University of Utah VA Medical Center for more testing and to learn how to use the new hand. The trips have put an extreme financial burden on his family since veteran’s benefits do not pay for travel, food or lodging for such treatment.
Friends of Pezzarossi are hosting a fundraiser next Tuesday, Oct. 24 to help him, with the event set for The Lakehouse in Mandeville from 6 to 9 p.m. There is no charge to attend, however, $500 host sponsorships are being solicited, as well as any other donations anyone would like to make.
Pezzarossi said he is still in “a lot of pain every day since I had my hand cut off,” but he is going through an intensive set of tests with the hand every day for two week periods at a time before he comes back to Mandeville for a two-week period of rest. Then he will continue the schedule of two weeks in Utah and two weeks home until the study is completed.
Pezzarossi grew up in Louisville, Ky. and knew from the age of 11 that he wanted to join the military. He enlisted two years out of high school after giving college a try on an athletic scholarship that saw him play wide receiver on the football team at Kentucky Wesleyan.
The motivation to become a soldier in the all-volunteer U.S. Armed Forces came from a grandfather who served in World War II.
“I used to see pictures of my grandfather when he was in the service and there was one I especially loved where he was standing next to a tank,” Pezzarossi said. “My grandfather never talked much about serving in World War II, but there was something about him serving that inspired me to want to join.
“I grew up in a family that made you know that the truth is the truth and if you believe in something, like this country, you need to stand up for it. I knew we had a volunteer force and the country needed more soldiers so I knew I would join,” he explained.
He enlisted in the Army with the 2nd Squadron, 3rd Armored Calvary Regiment as a 19 Delta Recon Scout who served at Fort Knox, Ky. and Ft. Bliss in Texas.
However, in 1992 he was severely injured in an on-duty, service-related incident that shattered a bone in his hand. He said he can’t talk about the accident due to security reasons and because he does not like reliving what happened.
“It’s a bone in your hand that is one of the hardest ones to break and one of the hardest ones to ever heal,” Pezzarossi said.
That began a grueling year of trying to recover, however, the military finally retired him in 1993 with full honors when his injuries persisted.
“They basically told me I would not be able to serve at 100 percent,” he said. “Back then they didn’t reprogram you for a desk job. If you couldn’t do the job they trained you for you were out.”
He eventually recovered enough to work as a salesman in various professions, something that brought him south when doctors told him he would have less pain in his hand if he lived in a warmer climate. But in 2012 he injured his entire right arm and hand again, as well as his ribs and rotator cuff when he was thrown from a horse.
“From that point forward I couldn’t work anymore,” he said, now at age 48. “I spent the next five years trying to get better, but then I began to develop RSD and the pain just got worse. That’s what led me to finally accept the idea of having my hand and part of my arm cut off.”
Still, Pezzarossi said, the reality of having such drastic surgery was a difficult thing to accept. For nearly 12 months he considered the alternative of living the rest of his life with a lot of pain and other physical problems with his hand and arm, or trying the bionic arm and hand.
Now with his visits to Utah to be a part of the study and get used to what is called a DEKA prosthetic hand, he said it is “amazing that it feels so real.”
Pezzarossi is married with two daughters and two step-children.
Anyone who cannot attend the fundraiser, but would like to mail a check to assist Pezzarossi can send it to him at P.O. Box 823, Mandeville, La., 70470. For more information contact Eric McVicker, a member of St. Tammany Fire District #1 who is heading up the fundraiser. He can be reached at 202-674-2337.