Iraq war hero and Chiver Brendan Marrocco is now the successful recipient of a rare double arm transplant.
In a surgery described as "The most extensive and complicated limb transplant procedure to be performed in the US," a team of elite surgeons at Johns Hopkins Hospital connected Brendan's bones, blood vessels, muscles, tendons, and skin.
The 26 year-old veteran received the arms and bone marrow from a deceased donor - a method shown to prevent rejection and reduce the need for anti-rejection drugs that can lead to organ damage and infection.
On Easter Sunday of 2009, Brendan's vehicle was on patrol in Iraq when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb. The explosion immediately blew Brendan's arms and left leg completely off. "My right leg was attached a little bit…and (the blast) killed my gunner. He was my best friend."
In a twist of cruel irony, the heat from the blast cauterized the same wounds it had caused - Brendan was barely bleeding. To compound matters, his carotid artery had been severed. Brendan was fading. He flatlined in transit to the hospital, "I died three times. No pulse. Flat-out dead. And I came back."
At the time, in 2009, nobody in the Iraq or Afghanistan wars had ever survived a quadruple amputation. Brendan would be the very first. Four others would follow, including Navy EOD Taylor Morris.
Despite Brendan's extensive injuries, he felt lucky to be alive. He knew it could have been worse; Brendan always reminded himself that his best friend Michael Anaya had given much more. "I was lucky to survive. I will not sit down and let my injuries take over my life."
As Brendan began the intense rehabilitation process, he found himself missing his arms much more than his legs. "Without legs you can still be independent. You know, without arms there's so much more you can't do."
As Brendan's condition improved, major advancements were also being made in anti-rejection drug technology. Still, the idea that somebody could receive two human limbs without rejecting them was a huge risk, both for the doctor and the patient. But if a doctor like Dr. W.P. Andrew Lee at Johns Hopkins was willing to perform the operation, and Brendan was all-in for the risk, it might just be possible.
On December 18th, after a 13-hour operation, Brendan became only the seventh double-hand or double-arm transplant completed in the United States. In the tense days following his surgery, Brendan maintained a sense of humor to break the tension. Brendan's father said: "He had a hoarse voice from a tube in his throat during the long surgery. It made him sound like Al Pacino, so Brendan started doing movie lines. He was making all the nurses laugh."
Because the risk of rejection is so high, the national media is just getting wind of Brendan's success story today. And you can't help but notice that in every interview, Brendan is wearing a different KCCO.
I spoke with Brendan about an hour ago via Twitter Direct Message. I asked Brendan how he was holding up. Could we do anything for him?
"Yes, I have one favor if you don't mind? My friend Gina is suffering from CRPS (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome). She’s such an incredible person and could use some prayers and needs to know she has people here who truly love her. And not to give up."
With the focus of a nation solidly on Brendan today, his thoughts are with the well being of others, not himself.
Brendan, we want you to know that it's a small world…really small. I don't know what the odds of this are but we actually know your friend Gina. We've been talking to her about her rare and painful condition for two months. You'll be glad to know that Chive Charities is about to take a very active interest in her life.
Say hello to Brendan on his Twitter Machine.
Brendan’s condition continues to improve. When I asked him about his health he said: “I’m doing great man. My fingers already move a little. I want to thank all the Chivers and beautiful Chivettes for the extraordinary support y’all have showed. It’s truly humbling to see. I’d also like to thank theCHIVE for bringing more awareness to situations like mine so we can get more help for our brothers and sisters wounded in combat.”
We’re the ones humbled, Brendan. As theCHIVE surges into 2013, we’re being led forward by the example of extraordinary Chivers who inspire all of us to be better people. Soldiers and sailors like yourself and Taylor Morris have raised the bar for all of us.
If you get a chance today, Chivers, drop Brendan a message on his Twitter Machine.