TODAY

TODAY   |  March 11, 2014

Journalist Miles O’Brien: Losing an arm ‘mind-boggling’

Just three weeks after having his arm amputated after a bizarre accident loading camera equipment, Emmy-winning journalist Miles O’Brien joins TODAY to discuss how he refused to let the mishap stop him, and reveals his big plans for the future.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> we are back now at 7:35 with emmy winning journalist, miles o'brien. less than a month ago, he lost his left arm after a seemingly minor mishap let to emergency surgery overseas. we're going to talk to miles in just a moment. but first, his story. from zero gravity to nasa scuba training.

>> i'm actually inside the hubble space telescope now.

>> miles o'brien has spent much of his 30-year career in rarefied air .

>> miles mission control .

>> a long-time science and technology correspondent for cnn --

>> it's an electric vehicle . this is a 20-year-old --

>> tuned into o'brien for his tenacity and signature humor.

>> i've never slept with a dolphin before. you're a beautiful.

>> he's now a fixture on programming, reporting from troubled spots across the globe.

>> we are about a kill some tier from the fukushima daiichi plant.

>> last month, o'brien went from covering news, to becoming it, revealing in a blog post that while on assignment in asia, he had had a seemingly minor mishap while loading camera equipment. two days later, emergency surgery , his left arm amputated above the elbow. now he begins the challenge of tackling a new lifestyle with the same qualities that make him beloved as a journalist. that's a good shot. miles is with us now. good morning. good to see you.

>> good to be here, savannah.

>> you know, this is less than a month old. it's not like one of these things you're looking back at and having all this time to reflect. you're in this reality right now. is it starting to to set in? how are you handling this new life?

>> i think i'm still on adrenaline. one of my first thoughts when i got out of the surgery was, i guess i went to the fukushima daiic daiichi nuclear power plant and risked a lot there. and it turned out to be good tonic for me.

>> this is a strange occurrence. heavy camera equipment cases, one fell on your arm. your arm was swollen and painful. most of us, if approximate that happened, we wouldn't think another thing of it.

>> and i didn't think of it either. and when i think of all the risky things i've done in my life, jumping out of airplanes, flying airplanes, scuba diving , the fact that an equipment case could take my arm is mind-boggling. but it's acute compartment syndrome , a build up of the sheathing inside your tissue, inside your limb, and causes the blood know to stop and that's why i got in trouble.

>> so you go to the hospital and the doctor says we're going to do surgery to relief the pressure. you knew it was a possibility you would lose your limb. but here you wake up in a strange country and you find out that's exactly what had happened.

>> yeah, because i felt my arm as if it was there. and i was like, okay, i dodged that bullet and you look down and go oh-oh, that did not go well. that was not guy moment, for sure.

>> you did something amazing, in my opinion. you stayed there. you didn't tell anyone at home what was happening. you got well enough to get yourself back to this country and you worked on your story.

>> yeah.

>> how did you find the strength and self-sufficiency to do that?

>> you know, i'm one of these people that if i told everybody and they flew in, i would have felt like i had to take care of them. and i frankly just wanted some time on my own to sort this whole thing out, try to get my head together on it. much to the chagrin of my family and friends. but i didn't say anything. but i think for me, it was the way to do it.

>> you're in the midst of adjusting to this, as i said, just a few weeks ago this happened. what's your biggest concern? what's your biggest fear going forward?

>> well, you know, i want to make sure i still get work. and i've got to say, i've had -- spent such a tremendous outpouring from my pbs family, as well. the news hour, front line, nova, the programs i work for, they have all just reached out to me and said you're still our guy. and that means a lot to me.

>> we know and love you as a space geek, science geeb. and there is something kind of interesting about the fact you are now up close and personal with some of these advances in technology. yesterday, you had mirror box therapy. we have of a picture. tell us what this is.

>> basically, tricking yourself into believing that your arm is there. you use a mirror, and you look at it and try to move your phantom limb , which i feel very much. match that movement with your -- the limb that's left, and your brain starts thinking, oh, the arm is there. and that alleviates some of this phantom limb pain . i don't think anybody knows why.

>> you also had your first meeting with the doctor about a possible prosthetic. are you hopeful about what you might be able to do?

>> well, you know, technology has -- really gone in leaps and bounds. sadly, because of the wars. but that technology is something i will take advantage of as time goes on. you have to sort of decide what you need the device for, the gadget for. and there are attachments for flying airplanes and riding bicycles and shooting video. all things i need and want to do.

>> well, i know you've already single handedly opened a bottle of wine.

>> yes, i did.

>> important task.

>> important daily task.

>> and zipped up your jacket and tied your shoe. and i know you want to fly again. you are a devoted pilot.

>> i hope to do that.

>> i want to mention, the whole reason you were overseas was to oh document the third anniversary of the fukushima nuclear plant disaster, a special that airs on pbs. you did get it done. i want to play a little clip of it.

>> thank you.

>> resembling astronauts on the way to a fully fueled rocket. we don special shoes and hard hats and then boarded a bus that would get us as close to the meltdowns as the laws of physics and common sense would allow.

>> the story seems really important to you personally.

>> it is. you know, it's -- an ongoing crisis there. i think we all think it's kind of over. but every day hundreds of thousands of gallons of water get contaminated at that site and have to be tanked up and held there somehow. and some of it is leaking into the pacific ocean . and the whole world needs to pay attention to this and help the japanese as they try to clean that mess up.

>> well, it's an extraordinary piece of work and you gave up a lot to bring us this story. miles, thank you for being here.

>> you're welcome.

>> really nice to see you. want to remind everybody, you can see the report "inside fukushima " tomorrow night on the