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30 January 2013

Soldier who lost all limbs gets two arm transplants

A retired US Army sergeant who underwent a double arm transplant after losing both arms and both legs in Iraq was discharged from The Johns Hopkins Hospital.

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A retired US Army sergeant who underwent a double arm transplant after losing both arms and both legs in Iraq was discharged from The Johns Hopkins Hospital on Tuesday, saying he was anxious to get back to an active life.

Sgt. Brendan Marrocco, 26, of Staten Island, New York, had the successful bilateral arm transplant six weeks ago at the renowned Baltimore hospital.

"I feel like I'm getting a second chance to start over," Marrocco said at a news conference announcing his discharge. "I'm just looking forward to everything I would have wanted to do over the last four years."

A roadside bomb attack in Iraq in 2009 cost him all four limbs. "I hated having no arms," Marrocco said. "I was alright with having no legs."

First procedure conducted at Johns Hopkins

Double-arm transplant surgery is rare, and doctors said this was the first such successful procedure to be conducted at Johns Hopkins. Also, officials have said Marrocco is the first US soldier in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to survive losing all four limbs.

Dr WP Andrew Lee, who headed the transplant team, said although the surgery was successful, it will be a few years before Marrocco's nerves regenerate and he regains significant use of his arms.

"The progress will be slow, but the outcome will be rewarding," Dr Lee said.

Dr Jamie Shores, an assistant professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery and a member of the surgical team, said Marrocco had exceeded doctors' hopes by finding creative ways to use his new limbs despite the medical team's cautious expectations for his mobility at this stage.

"We're the ones holding him back at this point," Dr Shores said.

Breakthrough for Marrocco

Marrocco wheeled himself into the news conference, during which he pushed his hair back several times with his left arm. He said his right arm and both hands have little or no feeling or movement.

"We'll get there," Marrocco said. Visibly in high spirits, the war veteran laughed and joked and said a positive attitude and stubborn nature helped sustain him through his ordeal.

"If it really meant something to me, I would go through hell to do it," he said. Marrocco's family said that besides his pain, he has been upbeat. "He really hasn't had any low points," said Michael Marrocco, his brother.

Doctors said Marrocco will spend up to six hours a day in physical therapy. The rare surgery took 13 hours and involved 16 doctors who volunteered from plastic surgery, orthopedics and other disciplines, the hospital said.

It was largely funded by the US Department of Defense, with the remainder of the cost contributed by the hospital, according to Dr Lee.

(Medina Roshan, Reuters Health, January 2013)

Read more: 

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