The Marine Corps’ top leader visited the first patient to successfully undergo a bilateral arm transplant and discussed medical treatment for wounded warriors with medical staff at The Johns Hopkins Hospital here May 8.
Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James F. Amos, accompanied by wife Bonnie Amos and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Micheal Barrett, met medical staff and visited wounded Army Sgt. Brendan Marrocco, who is recovering from the transplant surgery.
Johns Hopkins medical staff explained the details of the procedure and highlighted other successful transplant patients. Amos and the staff discussed the need for transplant procedures and the care of wounded warriors from Iraq and Afghanistan in detail.
Then, the group met Marrocco at a physical therapy room. Marrocco met the commandant previously in 2009 while the solider was at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., for treatment.
Marrocco was injured while driving a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle Easter Sunday 2009, when an anti-armor explosive-formed projectile tore through the driver’s door, leaving him so severely wounded all his limbs had to be amputated. He is the first surviving quadruple amputee from Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“It was kind of a reunion of the first time we met, when he got me into this arm transplant program,” said Marrocco, a Staten Island, N.Y., native. “I was at Walter Reed, and he just happened to be there watching me do physical therapy and came right up and introduced himself, and asked if I’d be interested in it. I just couldn’t say no.”
Amos too recalls that first meeting.
“I just remember him saying, ‘If I could only get one hand, my life would be changed forever,’” said Amos.
With the commandant’s support, Marrocco underwent the surgery three years later.
Marrocco got more than he had hoped. A team of 16 medical personnel successfully performed a 13-hour bilateral arm transplant in December 2012. With hard work, Marrocco stayed ahead of his recovery schedule and is in good spirits, exceeding all expectations.
“There were months where there was no motion, and my job is to just move and keep the joints supple and tendons gliding, making sure nothing scars down,” said Molly Ferris, Marrocco’s physical therapist. “I think, one day, we just saw a flicker in his left hand. It’s such a flicker that you think your mind is playing games, because you want it so bad you think you see it. Then, a few days later, it’s more and more. Then, it just slowly progresses like that.
“He’s in it for the long haul; he’s in here every day on time and ready to go. He knows it’s not a quick fix,” she added.
With his positive attitude, he’s pushing beyond what could be expected of a person in his position, confounding doctors with his progress.
“The doctors are constantly saying, ‘No, it can’t be. No, it’s too soon for this,’” said Ferris. “It’s very inspiring, and he’s able to do more and more for himself.”
During his visit with Amos, Marrocco tossed a rubber ball to him to show his ability to move his new arms, playing a friendly game of catch while talking about his experience and progress.
“It’s a great motivation just knowing other people are going to help you out if you need it, and you have their support, especially people like the commandant and sergeant major,” said Marrocco. “People where, if you really needed something, they’d move heaven and earth to help you out. It’s very humbling and a great thing to have in your back pocket.”