UK & World News

  • 30 January 2013, 7:27

Double Arm Transplant Gives Soldier 'New Hope'

A US soldier who lost all four limbs in Iraq says he has "hope for the future" after becoming the first serviceman to undergo a double arm transplant.

Brendan Marrocco lost both arms and both legs in a roadside bomb attack in Iraq in 2009.

But six weeks ago the 26-year-old underwent complex 13-hour surgery during which doctors attached two arms from a deceased donor.

The marathon surgery involved the connection of bones, blood vessels, muscles, tendons, nerves and skin on both arms.

The team at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins Hospital called it "the most complicated limb transplant procedure so far performed in the United States".

He was also given innovative treatment to prevent rejection of the new limbs, involving infusion of the deceased donor's bone marrow cells.

So far it has succeeded in reducing the need for anti-rejection drugs, which can cause complications like infection and increased risk of cancer.

The former infantryman is one of just seven people in the United States who have successfully received double arm transplants.

Doctors warn he has a long way to go before he can be certain his body will not reject the transplant.

Mr Marrocco told journalists at a news conference that he identifies the hands as his.

"I hated not having arms," he said. "Not having arms takes so much away from you.

"It (the transplant) has given me a lot of hope for the future. I feel like I'm getting a second chance to start over after I got hurt. I'm just excited for the future."

He added that losing his legs was less frustrating.

"You talk with your hands," he said. "You do so much with your hands. When you don't have that, you're kind of lost for a while."

One of his doctors, Jaimie Shores, the clinical director of Johns Hopkins Hospital hand transplant program, said Mr Marrocco will spend the next two to three years doing "intense hand therapy" six hours a day, every day.

He said Mr Marrocco had "a full-time job now that will take an incredible amount of effort", as his nerves regenerate at one inch per month, teaching his body how to use his new limbs.

Surgeons described the soldier as the "perfect person" for the surgery, because of his age and positive attitude.

Dr Shores said: "He's a young man with a tremendous amount of hope and he's stubborn. Stubborn in a good way. The sky's the limit with him."

The doctor who led his treatment, Andrew Lee, said previous double arm transplant patients had been able to learn to tie their shoelaces and use chopsticks within three years.

Mr Marrocco said his main aim was to drive again - preferably his new black Dodge Charger that has been waiting in his garage for three years.

The former football player said he hopes to get back to playing sports, though he said he now aimed to take on hand-cycling.

"One of my goals is to hand-cycle a marathon," he said.

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