Ludington veteran learns to use donor arms
BALTIMORE, M.D., (WPBN/WGTU) – A northern Michigan veteran is recovering at a Baltimore hospital after receiving a rare transplant.
In 2012, United States Army National Guard Sergeant Eric Lund lost both of his arms above the elbow after an IED explosion hit his convoy in Afghanistan.
Countless surgeries, prosthetics and two Purple Hearts later, Eric received the call he’d been waiting years for.
On November 6th 2017, doctors with Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore told the 34-year-old he would be receiving a double arm transplant.
Within hours, he was on a plane and prepping for surgery.
“It’s been a walk of faith since the beginning,” said Laurie Lund, Eric's mother. “Eric shouldn’t have survived the original injury.”
Eric’s extensive bi-lateral surgery took more than twelve hours. He is the second person to receive a double arm transplant at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
“You have to address the arms that are donated, so there’s one team on each of those arms, and there’s also one team on each of the recipient’s arms,” said Carisa Cooney, a Clinical Research Management for Transplant Protocol. “So you can have up to 16 to 20 surgeons in the or at one time, and that's not including the many nurses."
Cooney is also an assistant professor with the Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery with the university. She oversees, organizes and evaluates procedures. She said it was after Eric met with the first double arm transplant recipient at Johns Hopkins, Brendan Marracco, that he was inspired to get the surgery.
Eric received bone marrow infusions ten days after the surgery to help the body better recognize his new limbs.
Now, three months later, it’s all about getting his new arms communicating with his body.
“Every day it’s getting better and better,” Eric said. “I just have to learn where to flex, everything is different now.”
Eric has been working directly with physical therapists at Johns Hopkins for several hours every day. For months Eric will continue therapy working on stretching and training his muscles and nerves to communicate with one another.
“Eventually that’s what we hope to see is for him to gain more elbow motion first and then wrist and then hand and then and slowly the coordination back in his hands,” said Lourdes “Princess” Filippi, Eric’s Occupational Therapist.
Experts say it takes about a month for an inch of the nerves to regrow. So, each movement is a small, but vital accomplishment.
Eric says the biggest difference besides having new arms is once again having motion from his elbows.
“That was the biggest drawback with the prosthetics, I’d lift my arm up and it would just kind of fall down,” Eric said.
Eric hopes to be back on the greens soon, playing golf and spending time with his service dog, Lady, with his brand-new arms. Since having his prosthetics he learned how to surf, and says with his new arms, he's ready to take on more challenges.
“I did a lot of construction and stuff before so it would be nice to build things and work and build stuff around the house,” Eric said.
His procedure is part of a research project and is still considered experimental surgery. The entire process from surgery to recovery for the next several years comes at no cost to Eric or his family.
Experts say his success is another milestone for Johns Hopkins and Eric, giving hope for other’s looking to start new.
“You get used to him without arms, now you are getting used to him with arms, they look like a perfect match,” Lund's mother said. “They are doing things that are new, you are paving the way for the next person, it’s pretty outstanding.”
Since the surgery Eric and his mother have been living near the hospital in a handicap accessible apartment. The accommodations during Eric's recovery process are supported by Wounded Warriors, Semper Fi, and Helping a Hero. While he goes through therapy, America's VetDogs is watching his dog, Lady.
In the next month, he will be moved to Walter-Reed Hospital in Maryland where he will continue treatment.
Eric says he hopes to be home in Ludington within the next year, though the therapy could continue for several years.
“The miracles along the way have been amazing, this has been the biggest miracle of all,” Laurie Lund said. “He has such a lighter mood you see hope, he’s starting to talk about future plans, they gave him a future.”
In 2015, the Ludington community came together and presented Eric a house of his own, with modifications to accommodate the use of his prosthetics.
“The support has been incredible, it means a lot to us,” Eric said. “Just ,thank you.”
"Honestly, without this donor and their generous, kind hearted family, we wouldn't be here," Laurie said. "We can't thank them enough."
The family said if anyone would like to send Eric mail they can reach him at his current location:
301 N Broadway Apt 403
Baltimore, MD 21231