Just by surviving, Brendan Marrocco had already made history. The 26-year-old soldier became the first person to survive after losing all four of his limbs, injuries he suffered when he was hit with a roadside bomb explode in 2009. On Monday, he entered the record books once again when he received a double arm transplant, an innovative new procedure that could help many wounded troops regain their independence, reports The Associated Press.
A rare surgery
The operation was performed on December 18, but Marrocco’s father only recently made it public. The unique approach included a bone marrow transplant from the donor so that Marrocco was better able to accept the new limbs. Experts say that the operation could signal a breakthrough for the estimated 300 soldiers who have lost an arm or hands in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Marrocco’s surgery was just the seventh such procedure performed inside the United States and took doctors around 13 hours to complete. The operation was led by Dr. W.P. Andrew Lee, who is the chief of plastic surgery at Johns Hopkins University. Lee has been involved in several other similar surgeries, and though there is reason to be hopeful, he stressed that Marrocco has a long road to recovery.
“The maximum speed is an inch a month for nerve regeneration,” Lee told the AP. “We’re easily looking at a couple years [until we know for sure].”
No stranger to adversity
A lengthy recovery likely won’t be unusual territory to Marrocco, who has faced his fair share of challenges since he was wounded. Several months ago his Staten Island home, which was outfitted with more than $895,000 of features to help him get around, was damaged by Hurricane Sandy, according to The New York Times. The house sustained some significant water-related damage, and it was more than a month before he and his family could return.
A beacon of hope
Improvements in modern medicine have helped save the lives of many soldiers wounded by improvised explosive devices, and as a result the number of soldiers coming home with amputations has been especially high over the last decade-plus of war. An estimated 1,500 soldiers have had at least one limb amputated. Of those who lost a limb, 83 percent have lost one or both legs, according to The Huffington Post. Marrocco’s success could have a far-reaching impact on hundreds of wounded soldiers.