Marine with double arm transplant gives thanks for donor this Thanksgiving

Ret. Marine Sgt. John Peck, 31, shares a laugh with his fiancee Jessica Paker, 29, after receiving a double arm transplant. (Washington Post photo by Nikki Kahn)

Retired Marine Corps Sgt. John Peck, who lost four limbs to an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan six years ago, said Wednesday he has much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving.

But in a heartfelt Facebook post, he said he wanted to give special thanks to the young man whose family donated the new arms Peck received in a transplant last August.

"This year I'm extremely grateful for someone I never had the pleasure of meeting," he wrote. "I want to take this time to tell you about him. His name is Chris . . . (and) the arms that are attached to me, those used to be his."

Peck wrote that Chris was born in 1989 "with a congenital brain injury called porencephaly which is rare and causes a cyst in the brain and its secondary effects cause blindness . . . and seizures."

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke says porencephaly "is an extremely rare disorder . . . in which a cyst or cavity filled with cerebrospinal fluid develops in the brain."

"It is usually the result of damage from stroke or infection after birth . . . but it can also be caused by abnormal development before birth," the institute says on its website.

Symptoms can include delayed growth and development, seizures, speech problems and cognitive impairment.

Peck said Chris' father described his son in a Facebook message as "my own hero."

Peck, 31, who lived outside Fredericksburg, Virginia, and is still recovering in Boston, where the surgery was performed, said in an interview that the donor's father contacted him after Peck appeared at a hospital news conference last month.

He said the family did not wish to be identified.

In transplant cases, contacts between donor and recipient can be delicate, and Peck said he took steps to confirm the legitimacy of the overture.

"On August 16th Chris was not feeling well so he decided to go lay down but unfortunately never got up," Peck wrote Wednesday. "He suffered from a massive cerebral hemorrhage which the doctor said is devastating and he would never recover."

"The next day his parents were told . . . that their loving son was pronounced brain dead," he wrote.

Peck recounted that Chris's family donated his arms, heart, lungs, liver, pancreas, kidneys, skin tissue and corneas. "He saved at least four . . . lives and improved a lot more," Peck wrote. "I will cherish him his life and his gift till the day I die."

He said that since the 13-hour surgery at Brigham and Women's Hospital, his arms have been healing - although there have been some expected setbacks.

He is thought to be the second quadruple amputee from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to get a double arm transplant.

"We keep in contact," Peck said of the donor's father. "My first message to him was pretty long. I told him, 'Maybe someday we can actually meet up and have a beer or something like that and just talk.' "

He said Chris's father replied: "Not right now. The wife and I are still healing. But eventually one day, yeah, that would be great."


(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Michael E. Ruane




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