Curtis National Hand Center Surgeons Perform Innovative Double Arm Transplant

Tue Jan 29, 2013 8:49pm EST

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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.

(Photo:  )

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 18th.  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

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

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."

"Our group here in  Baltimore," Dr. Higgins told a crowded press conference
Tuesday, "in collaborating with Dr. Lee's team and Dr.  Jaimie Shores' team for
the last 18 months, and working together through the technical aspects of this
operation, through multiple rehearsals, have come up with what I would think, is
the most advanced procedural aspects that bilateral hand transplantation has
seen thus far.

"But I think, as much as we can work on all the technical details and the
perfecting the medications that the patient will receive afterwards, and try
honing down all those things to what we consider perfection, ultimately, the
result is going to be determined by the patient, and also the support of his

"That's really the reason why most of us, as the surgical team, are so
enthusiastic and so optimistic about Branden's prognosis because he's certainly

Marrocco will continue to undergo extensive psychical therapy, including daily
six-hour sessions of hand therapy for at least the next two years. The progress
will be slow as Marrocco works towards reaching full capacity of function, but
the outcome is expected to be positive.

"I feel great. I'm doing a lot better now," said Marrocco. "It gives me a lot of
hope for the future."

For more information about the Curtis National Hand Center, or a physician
referral, call:   877-UMH-HAND (877-864-4263).

About MedStar Health:

As the largest healthcare provider in the  Maryland-Washington, D.C., region,
MedStar's ten hospitals, MedStar Health Research Institute and 20 other
health-related organizations are recognized regionally and nationally for
excellence in medical care. MedStar Health combines the best aspects of academic
medicine, research, innovation and treatments with a complete spectrum of
clinical services to advance patient care.  MedStar has one of the largest
graduate medical education programs in the country, training more than 1,100
medical residents annually and is the clinical partner of  Georgetown
University. As a  $4 billion  not-for-profit, regional healthcare system based
in  Columbia, Md., MedStar is one of the largest employers in the region. Our
27,000 associates, including more than 7,000 nurses and 5,600 affiliated
physicians, support MedStar Health's patient-first philosophy that combines
care, compassion and clinical excellence with an emphasis on customer service.  

Visit us at

Contact  Debra Schindler
Phone    410-554-2496

SOURCE  MedStar Health

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