Marine Corporal Isaias Hernandez lost 70 per cent of his right thigh muscles in the blast, an injury so severe that amputation is normally the only treatment.
Corporal Hernandez was, however, offered a therapy in which his remaining muscles were impregnated with an experimental growth promoting substance extracted from pig bladders. It prompted the muscles to regenerate to a point that Corporal Hernandez has regained most of his strength.
"It was a remarkable recovery," said Stephen Badylak, the tissue engineering director at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh.
The significance of the breakthrough is that skeletal muscle, the kind found in arms and legs, does not normally regenerate after an injury or accident.
That means anyone who loses substantial amounts of muscle in a limb almost inevitably faces amputation. However, if the new treatment is proven -- and it still needs to be put through rigorous trials -- it could mean an entirely new range of therapies becoming available for such patients.
For Corporal Hernandez, then 19, the ordeal began as he tried to fit out a military truck with a small television in preparation for a long journey. As he approached the truck an enemy mortar exploded nearby, blasting him with shrapnel. The TV protected his upper body but not the rest of him.