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Amputee soldier given new arms in transplant

Army Sergeant Brendan Marrocco (at left) lost all four limbs in Iraq in 2009. He was the first soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan to survive such a devastating injury.

Seth Wenig/Associated Press/File

Army Sergeant Brendan Marrocco (at left) lost all four limbs in Iraq in 2009. He was the first soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan to survive such a devastating injury.

NEW YORK ­— The first soldier to survive after losing all four limbs in the Iraq War has received a double-arm transplant.

Brendan Marrocco had the operation on Dec. 18 at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, his father said Monday. The 26-year-old Marrocco, who is from New York City, was injured by a roadside bomb in 2009.

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He also received bone marrow from the same donor who supplied his new arms. That novel approach is aimed at helping his body accept the limbs with minimal medication to prevent rejection.

The military is sponsoring operations like these to help wounded troops. About 300 have lost arms or hands in the wars.

‘‘He was the first quad amputee to survive’’ from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there have been four others since then, said Marrocco’s father, Alex. ‘‘He was really excited to get new arms.’’

The Marroccos want to thank the donor’s family for ‘‘making a selfless decision . . . making a difference in Brendan’s life,’’ the father said.

Surgeons plan to discuss the transplant at a news conference with the patient on Tuesday. The 13-hour operation was led by Dr. W.P. Andrew Lee, plastic surgery chief at Johns Hopkins, and is the seventh double-hand or double-arm transplant done in the United States. Lee led three of those earlier operations when he previously worked at the University of Pittsburgh, including the only above-elbow transplant that had been done at the time, in 2010.

Marrocco’s ‘‘was the most complicated one’’ so far, Lee said in an interview Monday. It will take more than a year to know how fully Marrocco will be able to use the new arms, Lee said.

‘‘The maximum speed is an inch a month for nerve regeneration,’’ he explained. ‘‘We’re easily looking at a couple years’’ until the full extent of recovery is known.

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