An Iraq war veteran who was the first to survive losing all four limbs to amputation is now the first to receive a double arm transplant, and one Minnesota-based doctor who broke ground with reattachment surgery years ago says this could be the future for amputees.
The historic surgery was performed last month by doctors at St. John's Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, and Sgt. Brendan Marrocco is already able to move his new arms.
Edina-based Dr. Allen Van Beek performed the first double-arm reattachment surgery in 1979, and he says full limb transplants could become standard.
Van Beek's best-known patient was then-18-year-old John Thompson, who lost both arms in a farming accident.
"For us to fix those blood vessels, that's the easy part when you get down to it," Van Beek said. "The hardest part is the nerves."
When it comes to reattaching limbs, Van Beek says they already know about muscles, bones and blood vessels -- but transplanting someone else's arms takes it to another level.
"Now, add the new dimension that the sergeant has, which is the whole business of transplanting and the rejection phenomenon," Van Beek explained.
Even so, Van Beek told FOX 9 News he believes transplants could one day be the preferred option, and as a veteran himself, he commended Marrocco as a hero for more than just his military service.
"To me, the innovation that's going to come because that soldier is willing to take on the risk of the transplant -- it's going to help generations of people in the future," said Van Beek.
The 26-year-old veteran from Staten Island received bone marrow from the arm donor in the hopes that it will help his body accept the new limbs with only minimal medication to prevent rejection.
The surgery took a team of doctors 13 hours to complete, but his doctors say Marrocco will eventually be able to tie his shoelaces and eat with chopsticks.