U.S. sol­dier hopes new arms will lead to in­de­pen­dence

Veteran who lost all four limbs to bomb in Iraq looks for­ward to driv­ing, swim­ming writes ALEX DOMINGUEZ.

Ottawa Citizen - - WORLD -

ABAL­TI­MORE U.S. sol­dier who lost all four limbs in a road­side bomb­ing in Iraq says he’s look­ing for­ward to driv­ing and swim­ming with new arms af­ter un­der­go­ing a dou­ble-arm trans­plant.

“I just want to get the most out of th­ese arms, and just as goals come up, knock them down and take it ab­so­lutely as far as I can,” Bren­dan Mar­rocco said Tues­day. The 26-year-old New Yorker spoke at a news con­fer­ence at Johns Hop­kins Hospi­tal, where he was joined by sur­geons who per­formed the op­er­a­tion.

Af­ter he was wounded, Mar­rocco said, he felt fine us­ing pros­thetic legs, but he hated not hav­ing arms.

“You talk with your hands, you do ev­ery­thing with your hands, ba­si­cally, and when you don’t have that, you’re kind of lost for a while,” he said.

Mar­rocco said his chief de­sire is to drive the black Dodge Charger that’s been sit­ting in his garage for three years.

“I used to love to drive,” he said. “I’m really look­ing for­ward to just get­ting back to that, and just be­com­ing an ath­lete again.”

Although he doesn’t ex­pect to excel at soc­cer, his favourite sport, Mar­rocco said he’d like to swim and com­pete in a marathon us­ing a hand­cy­cle.

Mar­rocco joked that mil­i­tary ser­vice mem­bers some­times re­gard them­selves as poorly paid pro­fes­sional ath­letes. His good hu­mour and op­ti­mism are among the qual­i­ties doc­tors cited as signs he will re­cover much of his arm and hand use in two to three years.

“He’s a young man with a tremen­dous amount of hope, and he’s stub­born — stub­born in a good way,” said Dr. Jaimie Shores, the hospi­tal’s clin­i­cal di­rec­tor of hand trans­plan­ta­tion. “I think the sky’s the limit.”

Shores said Mar­rocco has al­ready been try­ing to use his hands, although he lacks feel­ing in the fin­gers, and he’s ea­ger to do more as the slow-grow­ing nerves and mus­cles mend.

“I sus­pect that he will be us­ing his hands for just about ev­ery­thing as we let him start try­ing to do more and more. Right now, we’re the ones really kind of hold­ing him back at this point,” Shores said.

The pro­ce­dure was only the sev­enth dou­ble-hand or dou­ble-arm trans­plant ever done in the U.S.

The in­fantry­man was in­jured by a road­side bomb in 2009. He is the first sol­dier to sur­vive los­ing all four limbs in the Iraq War.

Mar­rocco also re­ceived bone mar­row from the same donor to min­i­mize the medicine needed to pre­vent re­jec­tion. He said he didn’t know much about the donor but “I’m hum­bled by their gift.”

The 13-hour op­er­a­tion on Dec. 18 was led by Dr. W.P. An­drew Lee, plas­tic surgery chief at Hop­kins.

Mar­rocco was be­ing re­leased from the hospi­tal Tues­day but will re­ceive in­ten­sive ther­apy for two years at Hop­kins and then at Wal­ter Reed Na­tional Mil­i­tary Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Bethesda.

Af­ter a ma­jor surgery, hu­man nerves re­gen­er­ate at a rate of an inch per month, Lee said.

“The progress will be slow, but the out­come will be re­ward­ing,” he added.

GAIL BUR­TON/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Bren­dan Mar­rocco brushes his hair back with one of his trans­planted arms, dur­ing a news con­fer­ence Tues­day, at Johns Hop­kins Hospi­tal in Baltimore.

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