Last Updated: 7:08 PM, January 29, 2013
Posted: 1:05 PM, January 29, 2013
BALTIMORE — A brave Staten Island GI, who underwent a stunning double-arm transplant, beamed with optimism while showing off his new limbs today.
In an amazing scene of triumph over tragedy, 26-year-old Brendan Marrocco pushed his own wheelchair into a room at Johns Hopkins Hospital and told reporters he has a new lease on life.
“It’s a life-changing thing,” said the smiling Marrocco. “It feels amazing. It’s something I was waiting for for a long time.”
Marrocco received the rare transplant on Dec. 18.
For now, Marrocco can’t use his new hands because it’ll take months for nerves to grow all the way down his arms.
The GI wheeled into his meeting with journalists by pushing the wheelchair’s wheels with his arms and wrists.
“We’re pretty hopeful for the future, of getting full use of both arms,” he said.
Although previously right-handed, Marrocco has better use of his left arm because that side’s elbow survived the near-fatal bombing.
During his chat with reporters, Marrocco occasionally used his left arm to scratch his nose, touch his face and sweep hair out of his face.
Marrocco was discharged from Johns Hopkins today, though he’ll remain in Baltimore for more treatment.
"The progress will be slow, but the outcome will be rewarding," said Marrocco’s miracle-worker surgeon Dr. W.P. Andrew Lee, director of the Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Johns Hopkins.
Lee called Brendan's discharge from the hospital "another milestone" in his recovery.
Marrocco will eventually end up at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington DC for full-time physical therapy.
“It gave me a lot of hope for the future,” Marrocco said. “I’m excited for the future.”
The amazingly optimistic soldier has vowed he’ll walk again.
“With arms, he can now be independent,” mom Michelle Marrocco said.
“[He’ll] learn how to walk again — and with arms, he’ll be able to do that.”
The arms should allow Marrocco to support himself on prosthetic legs — and walk unaided for the first time since he was horrifically wounded at 22.
The soldier and his doctor told other disabled vets to remain stubbornly optimistic, no matter the odds.
"Don't give up hope," Marrocco said, telling wounding vets to ignore anyone who tries to put
limits on their goals. “Just be stubborn and do it anyway."
Dr. Lee echoed that advice: “Don't give up hope. Advances are made in medicine
Marrocco is one of only seven people in the United States to undergo a double-arm or double-hand transplant.
"The arms feel great," said Marrocco. "Things are healing up."
The high-spirited soldier said he’s incredibly grateful to the anonymous donor and his family.
"I'm humbled by their gift," he said. "They certainly changed my life and I'm grateful."
Lee yesterday said the operation — the fourth double-arm or -hand transplant he has done — “was the most complicated one” yet.
Lee employed a relatively novel approach, transplanting the limb donor’s bone marrow, in hopes of reducing the need for anti-rejection medications. Those medications often come with side effects and can increase a patient’s chance of cancer.
The surgery — which involved connecting bones, blood vessels, muscles, tendons, nerves and skin — appears to have been a success.
Lee said it could take years before it’s known whether Marrocco’s arms will be fully usable.
“The maximum speed is an inch a month for nerve regeneration,” he explained. “We’re easily looking at a couple years.”
Once his fingers are fully functional, Marracco said he wants to shake hands with his surgical team, family and music hero, country star Blake Shelton.
. Marracco was the first soldier in either the Iraq or Afghanistan conflicts to survive losing all four limbs in combat. Only four other soldiers since have survived such injuries.
About a year after his quadruple amputation, Marrocco was selected as a candidate for the double-arm transplant surgery.
“He was elated by the possibility of it,” Michelle Marrocco said.
She said her son’s enthusiasm waned “a little” during the two years and 10 months he spent on the transplant waiting list.
In the meantime, Marrocco moved into a 3,000-square-foot house built specially for him with nearly $1 million in donated funds.
The house, on Staten Island’s South Shore, was equipped with an elevator, remote-controlled appliances and other accoutrements that made it more livable.
Marrocco had to move out after it was badly damaged in late October by Hurricane Sandy.
Then, on Dec. 16, he got the word that two arms had become available through a dead donor.
His mom said Marrocco “was giddy” heading into surgery.
Michelle Marrocco said his rehabilitation will require “constant vigilance” as he tries to regain use of his arms.
“He will have to go to therapy six days a week for the next several years,” she said.“But that’s a small price to pay for the independence and getting his life back.”
Additional reporting by Dan Mangan, Ikimulisa Livingston, David K. Li and AP