Marine Sgt. John Peck lost both his arms and legs six years ago in an explosion in Afghanistan.
One morning he'd made the decision to take his own life by flinging himself down a flight of stairs, but just before, something caught his eye. Outside of his window at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, Peck could see another patient, a double amputee, holding hands with his daughter and wife.
That's the moment things changed for Peck.
“I thought, ‘If that guy can find happiness and somebody to spend his life with, then so can I,’ ” the retired military mortarman told PEOPLE.
Six years later, Peck is engaged to be married to Jessica Parker, an art student he met on Match.com. This past August, determined to hold Jessica's hand on the day of their wedding, he underwent a 14-hour, double arm transplant at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
Parker and Peck have planned to have their wedding a year from now when the nerves in his new arms are fully functional. " I want to be able to walk down the aisle with prosthetic legs and take Jessica’s hand in mine on the happiest day of my life.”
Six years ago on May 24th, Peck was searching homes in a small village in Afghanistan for weapons when he stepped onto an improvised explosive device, “I was flung through the air and felt something kick me really hard in the head,” Peck said to PEOPLE. “I believe it was one of my legs.”
When Peck woke up in a hospital, suffering from extreme trauma, it actually wasn't his first time. In 2007 he had suffered a traumatic brain injury from an explosion in Iraq. In 2009 he reenlisted. once again woke up in a hospital.
After coming home to the United States and waking up in the hospital after two months sedation, Peck had resided to letting go of his own life. But after witnessing the soldier with no legs engaging with his family, Peck said “yes” to physical and psychological therapy. Eventually, he gained the confidence to fill out a profile on Match.com.
“It was tough — women would read my profile and my messages, but wouldn’t respond when they saw that I was a quadriplegic,” Peck said. “They wanted absolutely nothing to do with me.”
Then Jessica Parker came along.
Last February she messaged him to say hello after finding herself attracted to Peck's sense of humor in his profile.
“He seemed so honest and open — I was really intrigued,” Parker, 29, said. “His profile contained a lot of puns — stuff like, ‘I’m a blast to be around.’ He made me laugh, so I thought, ‘Why not?’ ”
Initially, Peck thought Parker's message was a gag.
“A beautiful woman messaging me? It seemed very fishy,” he told People. “But I finally thought, ‘Okay, maybe I should talk to her.’ So we met for drinks and ended up talking all night. There was an instant attraction.”
Several months of dating later, Parker moved in with Peck and the two decided to get married. Hers was the first face he saw the morning he woke up from the transplant.
“It was an emotional moment,” Peck told PEOPLE. “I’d been on the waiting list for the transplant for almost two years. More than anything, I wanted to hold Jessica’s hand.”