Wrapping arms around new life

Brendan Marrocco listens during a news conference Tuesday at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. (Associated Press)

Transplants offer chance for independence

BALTIMORE – After weeks of round-the-clock medical care, Brendan Marrocco insisted on rolling his own wheelchair into a news conference using his new transplanted arms. Then he brushed his hair to one side.

Such simple tasks would go unnoticed in most patients. But for Marrocco, who lost all four limbs while serving in Iraq, these little actions demonstrate how far he’s come only six weeks after getting a double-arm transplant.

Wounded by a roadside bomb in 2009, the former soldier said he could get by without legs, but he hated living without arms.

“Not having arms takes so much away from you. Even your personality, you know. You talk with your hands. You do everything with your hands, and when you don’t have that, you’re kind of lost for a while,” the 26-year-old New Yorker told reporters Tuesday at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Doctors don’t want him using his new arms too much yet, but his gritty determination to regain independence was one of the chief reasons he was chosen to receive the surgery, which has been performed in the U.S. only seven times.

That’s the message Marrocco said he has for other wounded soldiers.

“Just not to give up hope. You know, life always gets better, and you’re still alive,” he said. “And to be stubborn. There’s a lot of people who will say you can’t do something. Just be stubborn and do it anyway.”

Dr. W.P. Andrew Lee, head of the team that conducted the surgery, said the new arms could eventually provide much of the same function as his original arms and hands. Another double-arm transplant patient can now use chopsticks and tie his shoes.

Lee said Marrocco’s recovery has been remarkable, and the transplant is helping to “restore physical and psychological well-being.”

Tuesday’s news conference was held to mark a milestone in his recovery – the day he was to be discharged from the hospital.

Next comes several years of rehabilitation, including physical therapy that is going to become more difficult as feeling returns to the arms.

For the next few months, Marrocco plans to live with his brother in an apartment near the hospital.

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