Double Arm Transplant Restores Function, Quality of Life for Soldier

Carey Phillips


SGT Brendan Marrocco was the first service member during the Iraq War to survive a quadruple limb amputation, and now he’s the recipient of new arms, thanks to the first double-arm transplant at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MD, which took place Dec. 18, 2012.

Marrocco was the beneficiary of research that’s been conducted since 2008 by the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM), which has been bringing together the world’s leading scientists and physicians from academia and industry to develop innovative medical solutions to fully restore Warriors with traumatic injuries. AFIRM is managed and funded through the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, which, along with the Department of Defense has provided and managed more than $6.5 million in hand transplant research—including sponsoring SGT Marrocco’s transplant.


Sgt. Brendan Marrocco answers questions at a press conference on the day of his discharge from Johns Hopkins Hospital, six weeks after receiving a double arm transfer. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Smita Bhonsale, deputy director for Science and Technology for the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine)

“A team of physicians and nurses helped to restore the physical and psychological well-being of someone most deserving,” said Dr. W.P. Andrew Lee, director of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine’s Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, and head of the team that performed the transplant. “Brendan Marrocco had lost both arms and both legs serving our country nearly four years ago.”

Marrocco, a sergeant in the U.S. Army, sustained his injuries in late October 2009 when an explosively formed penetrator entered his vehicle. With advances in protective equipment, battlefield evacuation and medical care, service members are surviving injuries that would previously have resulted in death, and they are learning how to live without one or more limbs. Recent advances in regenerative medicine provide hope to these service members who look toward a future where they may once again have arms and hands that they can use.

“[Marrocco’s] hope to lead a normal life has been boosted by the first double-arm transplant at Johns Hopkins,” said Lee.


The first Johns Hopkins double arm transplant Dec. 18, 2012. (Photo courtesy of Johns Hopkins Hospital)

The DOD invests in medical research and development efforts that have the most promising ability to benefit our troops injured in combat.

“Hand transplants, such as the bi-lateral procedure performed on Sgt. Marrocco, have the potential to restore not just function but also quality of life for our injured service members,” said Dr. Smita Bhonsale, deputy director for Science and Technology for the AFIRM.

“It’s such a big thing for my life and it is just fantastic,” said Marrocco at the Johns Hopkins Press Conference Jan. 29. “It has given me a lot of hope for the future.”

Marrocco, now 26 years old, continues to maintain a positive attitude and is looking forward to reaching for the goals he has set for himself and taking his ambitions as far as he can.

“One of my goals is to hand-cycle a marathon,” said Marrocco.

While the road to more functional use of his arms will be slow, Marrocco is confident that he will get there.

“The nerves regenerate at the maximum speed of one inch per month,” said Lee. “Considering where we did the transplant, and where the nerves are connected, there are many, many inches and indeed many, many months – a couple years for that matter – before function will return.”

Marrocco and Lee closed out the press conference with a message to fellow amputees to not give up hope. Advances in medicine are made every day.

The AFIRM continues to support advances in regenerative medicine, generating hope for injured service members.