Iraq War Vet Gets Double Arm Transplant

I first heard about this story this morning on D.C.’s news radio station as I was driving to a morning appointment, and I find it utterly fascinating:

It was an exciting day for a 26-year-old veteran, the first soldier to survive after losing all four limbs in the Iraq War. On Tuesday, Brendan Marrocco wheeled himself into a news conference to show off his newly transplanted arms following his surgery last month at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Marrocco received his new arms in a 13-hour operation that involved 16 surgeons on December 18 at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

“I hated not having arms,” Marrocco said during the news conference. “I was alright with not having legs. Not having arms takes so much away from you. Even your personality. You talk with your hands. You do everything with your hands, basically. And when you don’t have that you’re kind of lost for a while.”

Marrocco received his two new arms from a deceased donor, becoming one of only seven people in the United States who have undergone successful double-arm transplants.

“It’s given me a lot of hope for the future. I feel like I’m getting a second chance to start over after I got hurt,” Marrocco said. “I’m excited for the future.”

His transplants involved the connection of bones, blood vessels, muscles, tendons, nerves and skin on both arms, and was the most extensive and complicated limb transplant procedure so far performed in the U.S., according to a hospital statement.

Doctors say it will take years for Marrocco to fully recover, but as he brushed the hair from his forehead with his left arm at the news conference, it appeared that he may get there far faster than predicted.

The main limiting factor in recovery is the slow growth of nerves, said the surgical team’s leader, Dr. W.P. Andrew Lee, plastic surgery chief at the Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Dr. Jamie Shores agreed.

“We expect it will take two to three years to see what that final function will be,” said Shores, the hospital’s clinical director of hand transplantation. “The nerves make the muscles work as well as giving sensation.”

Quite honestly, I did not even know that arm transplants were even possible, so the story itself was noteworthy to me. Even if Marrocco doesn’t regain full use of his transplanted arms, it’s still an absolutely amazing accomplishment.

FILED UNDER: Health, Science & Technology, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    It really is astonishing. What a great thing for this man.

  2. CSK says:

    What a wonderful story. I wish that young man the best of everything–and he sounds as if he has the grit and determination to make the most of it. I’m in awe of the doctors. How gratifying it must be to give back to a person his life.

  3. C. Clavin says:

    Friggin’ amazing.
    Just friggin’ amazing.
    So great for this guy. Imagine the change in his life.

  4. cd6 says:

    If he got donor arms from both a left handed and a right handed guy, would this be like an “I am your powers combined” type scenario?

  5. matt says:

    @CSK: Noi kidding

  6. Tano says:

    @cd6: No.
    Handedness is determined in the brain, not the arms.