BOSTON (CBS) — A retired Marine who lost all four limbs in combat in Afghanistan six years ago is recovering after getting a double arm transplant at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Sergeant John Peck, 31, is currently working to gain use of his new arms after his surgery.
“Every day, it’s a learning experience,” he said at a press conference at Brigham and Women’s Wednesday.
And he says that he’ll use the arms to fulfill his life-long dream of becoming a celebrity chef.
“My dream job since I was 12 was to be a chef,” he said. “And because of my donor’s gift, I actually have a chance of doing this.”
In August, Dr. Simon Talbot, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Brigham and Women’s, led a team of 60 surgeons, nurses, and technicians for that 14-hour bilateral arm transplant.
Doctors expect it will take 9-12 months of rehabilitation.
It was the fourth surgery of its kind performed at the Boston hospital.
The new arms were from a donor who had died only 36 hours earlier.
On Wednesday, Peck thanked his deceased donor and their family, who will remain anonymous.
“Every day I look down at our new arms, I will drive through the pain and never give up,” he said. “I will remember his selflessness and his gift until the day I die, and I will not take it for granted.”
He also thanked his wife, Jessica, for helping him through his recovery.
“Without you I wouldn’t be here,” he told her during the press conference. “I wouldn’t have come so far so fast. I love you, and I will continue to love you, and I hope you will stand by my side until the day I die.”
He said one of the best things about having arms again is that he can hold Jessica’s hand.
“One day very soon, I’ll be able to hold Jessica’s hand and actually be able to feel it,” he said. “And that truly is a precious gift.”
Peck said he found out about the surgery while searching for information about leg transplants online.
“Immediately, I just started blowing up their email,” he said.
He completed an extensive evaluation in 2014 to become eligible for the transplant. Dr. Talbott said the evaluation was long and complex, and took about a year.
“John’s a great candidate for a number of reasons,” Dr. Talbott said. “He is young and enthusiastic … as you can see, he’s really enthusiastic about his therapy.”
Peck is currently undergoing outpatient therapy at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. There, he’s working on physical therapy, as well as re-learning simple tasks that many take for granted, like dressing, grooming, and brushing his teeth.
“Literally, people have a dominant hand and the other’s a helper hand,” said Dr. David Crandell, medical director of the Amputee Program at Spaulding Rehabilitation Network. “Right now, he’s got two helper hands.”
Watch: Q&A With Brigham And Women’s Arm Transplant Patient
His nerves have to grow down into his new arms and into his fingertips, a process that could take a year–and one that can prove very painful.
Peck said the pain was “tremendous” at first.
“There was one night in the ICU, I believe it was the first night that I had a bad night, I believe the anesthesia was starting to wear off and I actually wanted to call Dr. Talbott and tell him to re-amputate my arms,” he said. “It was a moment of weakness, but I’ve overcome it.”
He said he’ll have to get used to using real arms instead of prosthetics.
“There’s things with prosthetics that I can’t do—like circular doorknobs,” he said. “With prosthetics, I couldn’t feel temperature. I literally dipped my prosthetic hand into the grill, and was just like, it’s not a big deal to me. Now, I can’t do that, I actually have to wear an oven mitt.”
He said he’s since moved off pain medication, and once he regains feeling, Peck said he plans on living his dream.
“I plan on going to culinary school, travelling to Paris and Italy to learn about their techniques, coming back, and competing on The Next Food Network Star, to hopefully hear Giada and Bobby Flay say, ‘John Peck, you are the next Food Network Star,'” he said.
WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Kim Tunnicliffe reports