Landmark Surgery Gives Injured Vet Two New Arms

By Nick Venable | 8 years ago

At 26 years of age, Sgt. Brendan Marrocco of the U.S. Army has already been through tragedies that most of us wouldn’t wish on those we most dislike. In 2009, while on a tour in Iraq, Marrocco’s vehicle hit a roadside bomb, which left him with a severed carotid artery and all four limbs torn from his body. Despite reaching clinical death three times, he survived the tragic incident and became the first quadruple amputee survivor from any of America’s past wars. And though survival itself is as positive an outcome as one could hope for, given the circumstances, it still wasn’t a happy ending. As it turns out, it wasn’t the ending at all.

Sgt. Marrocco shows off his new arms.
Sgt. Marrocco shows off his new arms.

Sgt. Marrocco is now the first recipient of a successful double arm transplant, a surgery he went through this past December. A team of 16 surgeons from Baltimore’s John Hopkins University Hospital performed the surgery, led by Dr. Andrew Lee. The procedure itself took around 13 hours, and included connecting the bones via screws and plates before connecting the muscles, tendons, and blood vessels. To trick the body into accepting the transplant, the doctors used a technique only tried in five other patients, injecting bone marrow from the arm donor into Marrocco’s body, fooling his immune system into thinking the arms were his own. This allowed the doctors to use one anti-rejection drug rather than the three normally used. I’d hate to be the opposite guy who thought his real arms weren’t actually his own.

While six double hand transplants have been successful, this is a landmark surgery. “We knew arm transplants can help people, but we didn’t know whether we could transplant so high up in the arm,” Lee said.

Marrocco was just discharged from the hospital on Tuesday, and will face years of extensive physical therapy, as the nerves grow in the transplanted arms at a rate of an inch per month. But doctors predict he’ll be able to use his hands for anything he could have previously.

So was it worth it? “I never really accepted the fact that I didn’t have arms, so now that I have them again, it’s almost like it never happened. It’s like I went back four years and I’m me again,” Marrocco said. I’d say that sounds like a win for medicine. Though I bet the procedure cost at least two arms and two legs. Check out the moving video below.