While on a second tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2010, now-retired Marine Sgt. John Peck’s life changed in an instant when he stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED), triggering an explosion. He lost both of his legs and a large part of each arm. Later, he developed an infection, which required a further amputation of his left arm to save his life.
For two months after the blast, Peck remained at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. He has since undergone more than two dozen surgeries to address his injuries.
Ready to move forward, Peck, of Fredericksburg, Virginia, completed an evaluation at BWH in August 2014 to receive a double-arm transplant. Two years later, life was about to transform again—this time, for the better. He received a call this summer from Simon G. Talbot, MD, BWH director Upper Extremity Transplantation, with news that the bilateral arm transplant would take place at the Brigham.
“My life had been on a timeout for a while,” said Peck, now 31, a recipient of two Purple Hearts. “When I got the call, I broke down and cried. I quickly had to pull it together because I had to get to Boston. I was ready to face the challenges with patience and perseverance.”
At an Oct. 5 press conference in BWH’s Zinner Breakout Room, Peck joined Talbot and David Crandell, MD, medical director of the Amputee Program at Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, where Peck has been undergoing outpatient rehabilitation, to share his story with the world.
Peck recounted the moment he saw his new hands for the first time.
“It was pure love at first sight,” Peck said. “When I look down at my hands, they seem so natural. It was just a perfect match.”
In August, a multidisciplinary team—including 12 surgeons—worked nearly 14 hours to transplant the arms, one below the elbow and one above. Peck’s case was the fourth bilateral arm transplant performed at the Brigham.
Peck’s surgery went seamlessly, Talbot said. Although Peck experienced a brief episode of rejection about two weeks after surgery, which is common among transplant recipients, he’s now doing well and meeting all of his milestones, he added. Peck is expected to regain function and sensation in his new limbs over the next several months.
“While every patient is special to us, having the opportunity to care for a patient who has given so much in service to this country was especially meaningful to our team, particularly to those who have served,” Talbot said.
During the press conference, Alexandra Glazier, president and chief executive officer of the New England Organ Bank, thanked the donor family and talked about the life-changing benefits of organ donation.
“We are continually humbled and inspired by the willingness of donor families to give to others while they deal with the profound and sudden loss of a loved one,” Glazier said.
Peck is relearning how to perform basic tasks with his hands—picking things up, eating, brushing his teeth, getting in and out of a wheelchair and, perhaps most important to him, holding the hand of his fiancée, Jessica Paker.
His new arms serve another special purpose—he’s able to wear a memorial bracelet on his wrist that honors the memory of a friend killed in action.
“It means a lot to me that I can actually wear it now,” said Peck. “Military members wear these bracelets to celebrate the lives and successes of our fallen brothers. I’m just happy that I could finally put it on.”
Looking ahead, he would like to one day attend culinary school and audition to be a star on the Food Network channel—a dream of his since he was a child.
Peck commended his medical team for giving him a new chance at life.
“Their expertise is world class,” he said. “I am grateful to the entire team—including the surgeons, nurses, anesthesiologists, residents and specialists—who worked together to perform the surgery and provide my follow-up care.”
In addition, Peck gave special thanks to his anonymous donor and the donor’s family for making the transplant possible. Because of them, he’s been given a new chance at life.
“Every day when I look down at my new arms, I will drive on through the pain and I will never give up,” Peck said. “I will remember my donor’s selflessness and his gift until the day I die. I want the family to know that I appreciate their bravery and courage in making the decision to donate their loved one’s organs. I assure them that I will not let this gift go to waste.”
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BWH Vets Grateful to Give Back
Several members of retired U.S. Marine Sgt. John Peck’s surgical team are also military veterans. They shared their thoughts on caring for a brother-in-arms.
Arnold Alqueza, MD, Orthopaedic Surgery, U.S. Navy. “I completed my five years of active duty in the Navy as a submarine officer 17 years ago. It is an honor for me to be able to serve the veterans who laid it all on the line for our country every day when they served. I hope John Peck finds joy and use from the gifts given to him by another gracious family.”
Paul Burgart, CST, Operating Rooms, U.S. Army: “I was at Letterman General Hospital, Operating Room, Sixth U.S. Army, San Francisco, from 1971 to 1973, helping care for vets returning from Vietnam. Life feels full circle now, being able to be part of the team helping to take care of this next generation of vets, who have given so much in the service to their country. I feel honored to serve in this capacity.”
George S.M. Dyer, MD, Orthopaedic Surgery, U.S. Air Force: “It was a particular honor to participate in the care of an injured Marine. Nearly 20 years ago, I finished seven years of active duty service to go to medical school. Then, after 9/11, I regretted that I was no longer on active duty to serve my country, but not yet fully trained as a surgeon. So I am especially grateful for this chance to use my new profession to give something back to a man like John Peck, who gave so much as part of his own service.”