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A disabled man wheeled himself into a hospital conference room to face a crowd of journalists.

Not so unusual, you might think. But you would be wrong. Former Army Sergeant Brendan Marroco is the first US soldier from the Iraq and Afghan campaigns to survive losing both arms and both legs. An explosion in Iraq in 2009 changed his life forever.

But now he has received two new arms in the first transplant of its kind at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

“Not having arms takes so much away from you, out of even your personality.” he told reporters. “You talk with your hands, you do everything with your hands, basically, and when you don’t have that, you’re kind of lost for a while.”

The transplant operation itself took place in December and involved 16 doctors from plastic surgery, orthopedics and other disciplines. The surgery lasted over 13 hours with everything from skin and nerves to blood vessels having to be attached.

Marroco said completing a road race on a manually-propelled bike and also driving a car again are his two major aims.

“We’ll get there,” Marrocco said. Visibly in high spirits, the war veteran laughed and joked and said a positive attitude and stubborn nature helped sustain him through his ordeal. “If it really meant something to me, I would go through hell to do it,” he said.

Marrocco’s family said that besides his pain, he has been upbeat. “He really hasn’t had any low points,” said Michael Marrocco, his brother.

W.P. Andrew Lee, the doctor who headed the transplant team, said although the surgery was successful, it will be a few years before Marrocco’s nerves regenerate and he regains significant use of his arms. “The progress will be slow, but the outcome will be rewarding,” Lee said.

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