Robert Andrzejczak was 22 years old when his entire life changed. It was a January day in 2009, and Andrzejczak was on his second deployment to Iraq, operating as a rear gunner protecting a convoy. Suddenly, a grenade hit his vehicle and the explosion ripped it apart. No troops died in the attack, but Andrzejczak lost his left leg, and was soon on a long road to recovery that began at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
Two weeks after Andrzejczak lost his leg, Oprah visited many of the critically injured soldiers at Walter Reed. Meeting Andrzejczak that day was a moment she said she wouldn't soon forget, as he told her that it marked the first day he had gotten up out of a chair since the attack. Then, Oprah and the rest of the world witnessed the young veteran stand, supporting himself on a set of parallel bars, for only the second time since his amputation.
So how did it feel? "Painful, actually," Andrzejczak said back then. "The other leg, it feels like all of the blood is rushing right to it."
Still, he seemed to remain focused, inspired by his fellow veterans at Walter Reed. "Some of the guys with the prosthetics that are just running around here and doing all types of exercises and walking like it's no problem at all, it's definitely motivating," Andrzejczak said. "That's where I want to be."
Now, six years later, Andrzejczak, too, has made remarkable progress in his recovery. "Definitely come a long way since then," he tells "Oprah: Where Are They Now -- Extra."
It was four months before Andrzejczak got his first prosthetic and took his first steps on two feet; his total recovery process took about two years. "That experience was definitely life-changing. It gave me the ability, the mobility, to be myself again," he says.
The New Jersey native has also found a new way to serve -- through politics.
"I have also become an Assemblyman here in the great state of New Jersey. I ran in my first election and won. And then, just a few weeks ago, I ran in my second election and won that one as well," Andrzejczak says.
Though it took a lot of pain and difficulty to get to this point, Andrzejczak wouldn't change any part of the experience.
"If I had to do it all over again, I absolutely would," he says. "Only because, with an experience like that, if it wasn't me in that seat, it would be somebody else. I really wouldn't want anybody to go through any injury or suffering the way I did."
Over the years, Andrzejczak has had people thank him for his service, and he says expressing your genuine gratitude to a veteran is much appreciated.
"When you say 'thank you' to a veteran, it does mean a lot to us. It really does go a long way," he says. "Veterans go through all kinds of different experiences, and when they come home, they might be struggling in different ways. So if you go up to a veteran and you thank them for their service and are very sincere about it, it really could change a veteran's day."
For more from "Oprah: Where Are They Now?", visit wherearetheynow.buzz.
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