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Updated Tuesday, January 29, 2013 at 09:41 AM

Army soldier receives double-arm transplant

By Michael E. Ruane
The Washington Post

A former U.S. Army soldier who became a quadruple amputee after surviving an explosion in Iraq three years ago has undergone a rare double-arm transplant at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, the hospital is expected to announce Tuesday.

Brendan Marrocco, 26, of Staten Island, N.Y., who underwent the marathon surgery last month, was the first service member from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to survive the loss of four limbs, officials have said.

He lost both legs above the knee, his left arm below the elbow, and his right arm above the elbow when the military vehicle he was driving was struck by a powerful roadside bomb on Easter Sunday, April 12, 2009.

He is the first such service member to receive a double-arm transplant, and the hospital says he is one of only seven people in the United States who have undergone successful double-arm transplants.

The complex operation was performed Dec. 18.

The surgery was done by a special team of transplant experts headed by W.P. Andrew Lee, professor and chairman of the department of plastic and reconstructive surgery at the hospital.

“He’s doing well,” Marrocco’s father, Alex, said Monday. “Doing well. It’s been a little over a month now.”

Lee said about 80 arms have been transplanted in about 60 patients so far around the world.

There are hundreds of military amputees around the country — four others who have lost four limbs, and more who have lost three, two or one.

Most such patients have been fitted with — and mastered — sophisticated mechanical prostheses. But Lee said research has suggested younger amputees don’t always use them.

“The nonacceptance rate of prosthetics is highest among young people in their 20s and 30s,” he said.

So the possibility of limb transplantation, despite its enormous medical, psychological and logistical complexity, holds great promise for the future, he said.

Lee said results, so far, have been good, although the arms are never going to return to 100 percent of their former function. But he said patients have learned to tie shoes, use chopsticks and put their hair in a ponytail.

Aside from the physical outcome, “I think it also has additional advantage for the patient to be restored whole,” he said.

After recovering at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Marrocco returned to Staten Island, where a special home was reportedly constructed for him by charitable organizations.

He has endured numerous surgeries and return trips to the hospital, and has been anticipating a transplant since 2010.

Little thus far is publicly known about Marrocco’s donor, but Lee said the donor arms often are brought from another hospital, another city or another state.


SETH WENIG / AP
Army Sgt. Brendan Marrocco of Staten Island, N.Y., wearing a prosthetic arm, visits the 9/11 Memorial in New York in July 2012. Marrocco, 26, the first soldier to survive losing all four limbs in the Iraq war, has received a double-arm transplant in Baltimore.




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