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Soldier looks forward to driving with new arms

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

Retired infantryman Brendan Marrocco, who received a transplant of two arms from a deceased donor after losing all four limbs in a 2009 roadside bomb attack in Iraq.
Retired infantryman Brendan Marrocco, who received a transplant of two arms from a deceased donor after losing all four limbs in a 2009 roadside bomb attack in Iraq.

BALTIMORE // A soldier who lost all four limbs in a roadside bombing in Iraq says he is 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.

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, Mr 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.

Mr Marrocco said his chief desire is to drive the black Dodge Charger that has 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 does not expect to excel at soccer, his favourite sport, Mr Marrocco said he would like to swim and compete in a marathon using a handcycle.

He 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 would 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."

Dr Shores said Mr Marrocco had already been trying to use his hands, although he lacks feeling in the fingers, and he was 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," he said.

The procedure on Mr Marrocco was only the seventh double-hand or double-arm transplant ever done in the United States.

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.

Mr Marrocco also received bone marrow from the same donor to minimise the medicine needed to prevent rejection. He said he did not know much about the donor but "I'm humbled by their gift".

The 13-hour operation on December 18 was led by Dr WP Andrew Lee, plastic surgery chief at the hospital.

Mr Marrocco is to be released from the hospital but will receive intensive therapy for two years at John Hopkins and then at Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre in Bethesda.

After a major surgery, human nerves regenerate at a rate of about 2.5 centimetres per month, Dr Lee said.

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