A plastic surgeon who practiced in Lewiston for 14 years was one of the 16 surgeons involved in the recent double-arm transplant for an Iraq vet.
Steven Bonawitz was part of the 13-hour surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland, helping to provide new arms to Brendan M. Marrocco, a 26-year-old infantryman who lost his arms and legs in a 2009 roadside bomb attack in Iraq.
Bonawitz spent 14 years practicing medicine in Lewiston, first in private practice and then through Central Maine Medical Center. He moved four years ago to the University of Pittsburgh, and then a year-and-a-half ago to Johns Hopkins, where he serves as assistant professor of surgery for the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
Although he most often deals with breast reconstruction as a surgeon now, his area of expertise is micro-vascular reconstruction, which involves repairing nerves, arteries, veins and vessels. That work is essential to an arm transplant.
Bonawitz worked on Marrocco's left arm. It was his first transplant surgery.
Worldwide there have been 53 double- or single-arm transplants, according to Gerald Brandacher, scientific director for the Reconstructive Transplantation Program in the Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. This was the first at Johns Hopkins.
Forty to 50 medical personnel were involved, including plastic and hand, orthopedic, micro-vascular and transplant specialists. Doctors came from Johns Hopkins, as well as the Curtis National Hand Center in Maryland, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and University of California, Los Angeles.
Four teams focused on Marrocco's surgery and another two focused on the donor's. They spent two years preparing for the procedure, including three rehearsals on cadaver arms over the past year, Brandacher said.
The surgery occurred in December, but it wasn't publicized until two weeks ago, when doctors felt Marrocco was recovering well.
Bonawitz said he felt lucky to have been part of the team.
"It's nothing short of a phenomenal privilege," he said. "It's a privilege to be able to work with a team like this. It's a privilege to be able to help someone like Brendan. There's no two ways about it."
Bonawitz said he saw Marrocco recently at a hand clinic in Baltimore. The Iraq vet has a long way to go in his recovery, but he is doing well.
"They're working hard on his physical therapy already. Everything's gone very nicely with him," Bonawitz said. "His attitude remains great. He's an incredible person. "
Although Bonawitz works at Johns Hopkins, he still has ties to Lewiston-Auburn. He maintains a home here with his wife, Cheri, who works as a real estate agent in Auburn. His daughter, Katie, attends the University of Southern Maine. His son, Eric, a former Lewiston Maineiacs ice hockey player, is attending Brock University in Ontario, Canada.