Vet's new arms offer hope of independence for him, many more

Posted: Jan. 31, 2013 6:55 am Updated: Feb. 21, 2013 9:15 am


IRAQ WAR veteran Brendan Marrocco has a pair of new arms thanks to a rare transplant surgery performed at Johns Hopkins Hospital last month.

Doctors conducting the 13-hour transplant surgery said it was the most complicated and extensive transplant ever performed in the United States. They hinted that the operation may pave the way for other wounded service members to get new limbs even years after they were wounded.

Marrocco lost both his arms and his legs nearly four years ago when an explosive projectile was fired at his military unit outside Baghdad. Ever since the attack, Marrocco has dreamed of gaining his independence and being able to manage much of his life on his own.

It won't be easy to reach that point. Marrocco's physical therapy sessions will last for six hours a day for at least the next two years as his nerves regenerate and give him greater control over his arms and hands.

"Brendan has a full-time job now. He's going to be working very hard" in physical therapy said Dr. James Higgins, chief of the Curtis National Hand Center.

It's a job Marrocco is glad he can tackle. The 26-year-old wants to swim, drive a car and perform other tasks that were impossible before the transplant.

National organ and tissue donation services are pointing to Marrocco's transplant as the happy ending they want to see for more patients. His arm transplants and bone marrow came from a deceased donor, greatly lowering the chances that his body would reject the transplants.

Surgeons say the complicated task of connecting tendons, muscles, bone, blood vessels, nerves and skin as Marrocco's new arms were attached will help guide future transplant teams. As the procedures become more widespread, they hope to see transplants offered to other wounded veterans as well as those injured in other ways.

If Marrocco's reaction to the surgery is any indication, the transplants will be life-changing events for recipients.

"It's like I went back four years. I'm so happy," Marrocco said.