Double arm recipient aims to drive

Brendan Marrocco was the first U.S. soldier to survive losing all four limbs in the Iraq War, and doctors revealed that he's received a double-arm transplant.

6 weeks after surgeries, Brendan Marrocco uses transplanted arms to text and style his hair

Excerpt of news conference where Brendan Marrocco and his medical team discuss his progress 5:15

A former U.S. soldier who lost four limbs in Iraq has regained some arm movement following a double arm transplant.

Brendan Marrocco, 26, of Staten Island, N.Y., told a news conference at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Md., on  Tuesday that the arms "feel great." He scratched his face and rotated his left elbow slightly.

"I feel like I'm getting a second chance to start over after I got hurt, so I'm excited for the future to see where I can go with it," Marrocco said of the transplanted arms.

He said he looks forward to being able to drive a Dodge Charger SRT8, hug his family, gesture, swim and play sports like hand cycling.

"I can't give up because I haven't driven [the car] yet."

Marrocco said he doesn't yet have any movement or feeling in the hands.

Dr. Andrew Lee, a plastic surgeon at Johns Hopkins, stressed it could take months or years to regain hand movement, considering how long it takes nerves to regenerate with intensive rehabilitation. 

Lost limbs in 2009

Marrocco lost both legs above the knees, his left arm below the elbow and his right arm above the elbow in Iraq when a military vehicle he was driving in 2009 was struck by a roadside bomb.

He's already impressed his medical team with his progress. Six weeks after the transplant surgeries, Marrocco said he uses his transplanted arms to text, use a computer and style his hair.

Marrocco, who uses prosthetic legs, delivered a message of hope to amputees. "There's a lot of people who will say you can't do something. Just be stubborn and do it anyway." 

Retired infantryman Brendan Marrocco uses his transplanted arm to brush his hair back. (Gail Burton/Associated Press)

With the "determination and stamina Brendan's demonstrated, we have no doubt this was the right thing to do," Lee agreed.

Dr. Jaimie Shores, the hospital's clinical director of hand transplantation, said Marrocco is eager to progress.

"I suspect that he will be using his hands for just about everything as we let him start trying to do more and more. Right now, we're the ones really kind of holding him back at this point," Shores said.

Brendan's mother, Michelle Marrocco, called it a tremendous experience for the family. She said they look forward to him returning home as an independent man, "the Brendan we've been looking for."

The transplants are only the seventh double-hand or double-arm transplant ever conducted in the United States.

Marrocco received bone marrow from the deceased arm donor to help his body accept the transplants with minimal anti-rejection medications.

Lee said a double arm transplant patient who had an above elbow operation recently showed him he was able to tie shoelaces. Lee said the man used chopsticks in a video he was sent.

The U.S. military is sponsoring such operations to help wounded troops. About 300 have lost arms or hands in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

With files from The Associated Press