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Curtis National Hand Center Surgeons Perform Innovative Double Arm Transplant

BALTIMORE, Jan. 29, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Surgeons from the Curtis National Hand Center at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital, led by its chief, James P. Higgins, MD, have performed their first double arm transplant on a 26-year old Iraq war vet.

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The recipient, Brendan Marrocco from Staten Island, was 22 when he lost all four limbs during a roadside bomb explosion in 2009.  He is the first quadruple amputee to have survived that level of trauma.

It's that fighting spirit, say surgeons, which led to him being selected for the 12-hour bi-lateral transplant surgery December 18 th.  His is only the seventh successful double arm transplant in the United States. The transplant was a collaborative effort, performed at Johns Hopkins with teams led by W.P. Andrew Lee, MD, Director of the Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery for Johns Hopkins Medicine, and Patrick Basile, MD, Lieutenant Commander in the US Navy at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

The transplants — a process involving the connection of bones, blood vessels, muscles, tendons, nerves and skin on both arms — required an innovative treatment to prevent rejection of the new limbs. With an infusion of the deceased donor's bone marrow cells, the treatment has effectively prevented rejection and has reduced the need for anti-rejection drugs. Donor arms were attached just above the elbow on one side, and just below the elbow on the other.

Marrocco's surgeons project his nerves will regenerate at a rate of one inch per month. Only five weeks out of surgery, doctors say any efforts to attempt movement need to be restrained.  It will take nearly 18 months before he has visible function.  But even without sensation in his fingers, Marrocco uses his new hands to text, scratch his face and do his hair.  He is eager to do more as the slow-growing nerves and muscles mend. Specifically, he said, "I can't wait to drive."

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