Solider blown up my IED has double arm transplant with another man’s arms

A Marine who underwent a double arm transplant has spoken of how the operation changed his life and of his fear that one day he may have to have his new limbs re-amputated.

John Peck, 33, of Bethesda, Washington, lost both legs and one arm after stepping on the pressure plate of an improvised explosive device (IED) in Afghanistan in May, 2010 and the remaining arm had to be removed soon after he arrived home after he contracted a flesh-eating fungus.

He fell into a depression and become secluded, shunning therapy and even devising a plan to end it all. But John managed to turn it around and in 2016 met wife Jessica, and was the recipient of a bilateral arm transplant.

Channel 5's The Man With Another Man's Arm, on tonight, documents John's unusual situation – he's only one of only six quadruple amputees to go under a bilateral arm transplant.

John's progress was a battle, but he pushed himself to his limits fueled by the promises he made the donor's family.

Losing his limbs in IED explosion

John first signed up to the Marines as a "step in the right direction to turning my life around".

He began training in 2005 and went on his first tour to Iraq in 2007, two years later he was sent to Afghanistan.    

Speaking in the documentary John said: "I decided to be the one up front doing the minesweeper, I picked it."

The group got to the last compound, which appeared to be deserted, and John headed in first.

There were two battery and loose wires, but no one around.

"We start to do a more thorough sweep, the next thing I know, I go to turn around with my right foot and I'm being blown through the air," John said. "They started to call out names and everyone is responding, they get to my name and they don't hear a response."

John had triggered a pressure plate for an Improvised Explosive Device (IED).

"They see my right leg is amputated, my left leg, my right arm above the elbow and my left [arm] was what they call a de-gloving incident where the skin is pulled off the flesh."

John was put on a helicopter and he blacked out. He was medically sedated and only woke up two and a half months later unaware of his injuries. 

"My mum had to tell me that I had lost my arms and legs because I still felt them," he said.

Flesh-eating fungus

John was told that he had flat-lined at one point and essentially died, but that wasn't all, he was also suffering from a life-threatening flesh-eating fungus.

"It ate my left leg up to the hip and the first abdominal muscle and bicep," John said.  On top of his injuries, John was also struggling with the collapse of his marriage.

"I became secluded, I stopped going to therapy, I said every swear word in my dictionary and just started going down my dark spot.," he said admitting he even thought about killing himself.

Then one day John looked out his window and saw a man on a bench who was missing two or three limbs.

John saw a girl come up and grab his hand, and as he watched the man's wife joined him.

"I just thought if this double amputee can find love, why can't I?" said John.

Things began to turn around now John wanted to live and he began his rehabilitation progressing through different levels of prosthetic limbs until he was able to walk again.

"If the Internet wasn't around I don't think I'd be alive," John said explaining how he had recorded videos showing how he adapted to everyday life even starting a Facebook page to share his progress.

Finding new hope

While researching other treatments John came across a man in Spain that had received a double leg transplant – Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston is one of the only places to carry out the procedure.

Dr Simon Talbot who carries out the operation said: "It's a type of surgery that's come to bear over the last 15, 20 years where we can take a limb from a deceased donor and transfer it to somebody who is living and needs that body part."

The hospital has only carried out four of these procedures since starting in 2011.

John travelled to Boston for assessment and – finally –  they told him that while they could only try one of his legs, they could attempt to attach another man's arms on both limbs.

"Mental and physical resilience go very strongly together and John's background in the military give him both," Dr Simon Talbot explaining why John was a candidate.

Now it was a waiting game. In a bid for a distraction, John signed up to a dating site and found his now wife, Jess.

"Jess did have to help me with driving, drive us to dates and help me get dressed and a few minor things here and there," he said. "Five months of dating and we'd build a strong foundation."

Then the call came.

"I started to break down crying because I'm happy, but my mood switches and I start to cry for the person that just died," John said remembering the moment he got the news. "I felt bad for him and his family, even though I didn't know their names or anything about them, I felt bad for someone I never met because they're willing to donate their son or boyfriend's arms and that's all I knew at that current time."

How they carried out the operation

Just 24 hours later John was in Boston getting ready for surgery.

First, the team had to join John's bones to the donor arms using metal plates.

Next Dr Talbot and his team used microscopes and precision instruments to attach his arteries and veins.

When blood started flowing through his arm it turned pink with new life. They then repaired the muscles and tendons before finally connecting the nerves to the donor arms.

The aim was for John to have function and sensation just months after surgery, though the level of his injuries made the task more challenging.

"The worse-case scenario, there is a potential with this degree of surgery and medical intervention that someone can die from this," Dr Talbot said.

There were nearly 20 people in the operating room for the 16-hour operation, with every minute it took meaning more of the tissue in the donor arm deteriorating.

The initial signs were good, but as the drugs wore off things changed. The pain was so bad John was close to asking for the new arms to be amputated again, but he thought of the donor.

"I can't go through all this and then amputate again because of a little pain, I can do this," John said.

He underwent months of physiotherapy and needed more help from Jess than ever then three months in John's fingers wiggled – he was starting to show results.

"When you get an arm transplant it's not guaranteed to work, but when the fingers wiggled like that it was a good sign things would work out," he said.

Over time feeling started to come back into his arms, and everyday tasks he couldn't even consider before were now a reality. John could even drive a fully adapted car independently.

The fear of rejection and the future

But years on John faces a new fear – his body rejecting his limbs.

"Whenever we transplant limbs our hope is those limbs will last forever, but we don't know, we know they can last 20 years but we don't know 30-40 years," Dr Talbot said.

John's immunity levels are low, meaning his body couldn't cope with amputee surgery.

Despite the risk, John has not allowed it to slow him down. "We just have to deal with it one day at a time," he said.

As for the person who planted the IED, John has a more philosophical view.

"There's a little bit of hatred towards them, but now I've let go of that and now I feel like I'm here for a reason," he said.

He's now decided to publish a book and become a speaker in the hope he can inspire others, but he doesn't want to be known as a hero.

"Don't ever call me a hero, what makes me a hero? Because I stepped on an IED?" he said. "My definition [of a hero] is someone that paid the ultimate sacrifice. I stepped on an IED, it just means I'm good at finding IEDs in the worst way possible."

"I feel compassion, I feel respect and love and I feel all those because without his family's donation I wouldn't be here," he said.

Read More

Soul Stories

  • Lulu's fight for survival

Man with another man's arms is on Channel 5 at 10pm tonight.

Source: Read Full Article