The infantryman had lost all four limbs in a bomb blast in Iraq in 2009

Brendan Marrocco did something remarkable on Tuesday, something he couldn't have done six weeks ago, or any time since 2009 when he lost both arms and both legs to a roadside bomb in Iraq: He used his own hand to brush the hair away from his face.

“Six weeks ago today this team of physicians and nurses helped restore the physical and psychological wellbeing of someone most deserving, who lost both arms and legs serving our country nearly four years ago,” said lead surgeon Dr. Andrew Lee, director of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine's Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery in Baltimore.

Long operation

A team of 16 surgeons performed an extremely rare double-arm transplant during a 13-hour operation at the Johns Hopkins Hospital on December 18.

“Brendan's recovery has already been remarkable, and now, his hope to lead a more normal life has been boosted by this double-arm transplant,” Lee added.

Doctors say in time, Marrocco, 26, should be able to throw a football, drive a car and do a long list of other things that were impossible before the surgery.

Marrocco said he has little memory of the day he lost all four limbs. It was Easter Sunday 2009 when the military vehicle he was driving was hit by a bomb during a routine patrol just outside of Baghdad.

His injuries were so severe doctors say he almost certainly would not have survived just five or ten years ago.

He is the first soldier to survive losing both arms and legs in the Iraq War, and only the seventh person in the U.S. to undergo a successful double-arm or double-hand transplant.

Before the surgery could take place, doctors treated him with bone marrow from the donor of his new arms in an effort to reduce the risk that his body would reject the limbs.

The procedure itself is so complex, the team of surgeons practised the surgery four times using cadavers before they went to work on Marrocco, connecting bones, blood vessels, muscles, tendons, nerves and skin on both arms.

“Although Brendan's surgery has gone well, the recovery period is not without risk,” Lee said. “The progress will be slow, but the outcome will be rewarding.”

Nerves rejuvenate at a maximum speed of one-inch per month, Lee said, which means it will be several years before Marrocco will achieve the fullest recovery possible.IANS

In his words

“I feel like I've been given a second chance,” Marrocco said. “I'm excited for the future.”

“I hated not having arms,” he said. “I was alright with not having legs, but not having arms takes so much away. You talk with your arms, they're part of your personality.”

“Now I can move my elbows, rotate my hands a little bit,” he said, and gesturing to his right arm, added, “This arm does not show much movement, not yet, but I'm hoping to get more.”

Marrocco said the secret to his success is to not give up, a message he'd like to share with other wounded warriors and amputees who are surviving catastrophic injuries and facing long and difficult recoveries.

“Life gets better,” he said, “and you're still alive, so be stubborn, and work your ass off. It's worth it.”