NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – A soldier who lost all four limbs in an Iraq roadside bombing on Easter Sunday in 2009 has two new arms following a “life changing” double transplant at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
As CBS 2’s Hazel Sanchez reported, Marrocco on Tuesday was celebrating what many take for granted.
“It’s something I was wanting for a long time,” Marrocco said. “And when it finally happened, I really didn’t know what to say, because it’s such a big thing for my life. It’s just fantastic.”
It is also miraculous. The 26-year-old Army veteran lost both arms and both legs in a roadside bombing in Iraq four years ago. He was the first soldier to survive losing all four limbs in the Iraq War.
“I died three times, and came back,” he said.
Marrocco, a Staten Island native, joined the surgeons who treated him to discuss the new limbs at the Baltimore hospital on Tuesday.
“It’s given me a lot of hope for the future,” Marrocco said. “I feel like I’m getting a second chance to start over after I got hurt. I’m excited for the future and see where I can go with it.”
The transplants are only the seventh double-hand or double-arm transplant ever conducted in the United States. The military is sponsoring operations like these to help wounded troops. About 300 have lost arms or hands in the wars.
Attaching the arms required a complicated, 13-hour surgery.
“It feels amazing,” Marrocco said. “It’s something that I was waiting for a long time and now that it finally happened I really don’t know what to say because it’s such a big thing for my life. It’s just fantastic.”
He was already able to move one of his new elbows Tuesday.
Marrocco also received bone marrow from the same dead donor. The approach is aimed at helping his body accept the new arms with minimal medication to prevent rejection.
“Although Brendan has done well from the surgery, the recovery process is not without risks or hard work,” Dr. W.P. Andrew Lee said. “He needs to take anti-rejection medication which can lead to infectious or metabolic side effects.”
Marrocco said the surgery was worth the risk.
“I’ve overcome so much in the last four years that I honestly wasn’t worried about the risks,” Marrocco said. “Worst case scenario, if I lose the arms I go back to the way I was. It was worth it to go through with it.”
He knows the thing he most wants to do.
“I used to love to drive and it was a lot of fun for me,” he said. “So, I’m really looking forward to getting back to that.”
Marrocco expects to spend three to four months at Hopkins, then return to a military hospital to continue physical therapy.
“Because the nerves regenerate at the maximum speed of one inch per month the therapy will continue for a few years,” Lee said.
For the time being, Marrocco said, “I’ve been using the hands to text, and use computer, and scratch my face, and do my hair.”
“I never really accepted the fact that I didn’t have arms,” he continued. “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.”
Before the operation, Marrocco had been living with his older brother in a handicapped-accessible home on Staten Island built with the help of several charities, including the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation.
“It was miraculous. It was a feeling of such great hope to him,” said foundation chairman Frank Siller, who visited Marrocco in the hospital.
The home was specially designed for Marrocco’s comfort with a heated outdoor ramp, wide hallways, an elevator, and a custom kitchen featuring counters that lower automatically and cabinets that drop out.
“I just want to get the most out of these arms and as goals come up knock them down and take it as absolutely as far as I can,” Marrocco said. “I just want to get to the point that I can be completely on my own and just get back to enjoying life.”
Marrocco was released from the hospital Tuesday, but he will not be heading home to Staten Island right away. He is expected to remain in Maryland for at least two years for physical therapy.
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