Augusta man still adjusting to new hands

An Augusta man who received the nation's first double hand transplant will be back home today, five months after the operation, his wife said Friday.


Jeff Kepner has been in Pittsburgh since the double hand transplant was performed May 4 at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Mr. Kepner has been rehabilitating and can move his fingers and wrists and is working on the ability to grasp and hold objects, Valarie Kepner said.

"He's kind of in that in-between state where things are working and things are going, but we haven't quite gotten to that point yet where he can grasp things and hold on to them," she said. "That's coming. It sounds like there's just a little bit further to go."

He has yet to gain touch sensitivity in the hands, but his doctors are seeing encouraging signs, Mrs. Kepner said.

"He has it in his forearms, so they are very encouraged because it is below the transplant site," she said. "It will be a little while before it gets down to his fingers. It's a matter of the nerves reintegrating and growing back down."

Mr. Kepner lost his hands and feet to a massive bacterial infection that nearly killed him a decade ago. Now he spends about five hours a day in therapy, which will continue in Augusta tentatively with a hand specialist with Doctors Hospital. The therapy sessions provide an opportunity for little victories each week, Mrs. Kepner said.

"That's what is kind of nice because you can see from one week to the next the improvements that he has made," she said. "That's what is kind of nice about it. I think he will be making leaps and bounds here before too long."

Better still, he is showing no signs of rejection in the hands and is progressing well on what is being called the Pittsburgh Protocol, an anti-rejection therapy that involves getting a bone marrow donation from the donor and a single-drug regimen that should be better tolerated. It was the first time it had been used in a hand transplant.

"He's only five months into it, and he is on an extremely low dose by their standards already on the anti-rejection medication compared to other individuals. So he is doing very well on it," Mrs. Kepner said.

The couple are looking forward to seeing their daughter, Jordan, who came back two months ago to start school, but no big celebration is planned because he can't be around big crowds yet, she said. That means he won't be able to return yet to Burns Memorial United Methodist Church. But they are feeling the power of prayer nonetheless.

"Anybody that ever wants to know about answered prayers, we've got a whole list of them," Mrs. Kepner said.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or


The Kepner family has incurred enormous expenses during a five-month stay in Pittsburgh while Jeff Kepner recovered from a double hand transplant. More expenses are coming as he continues therapy in Augusta. Those wishing to donate to the family can visit his Web site,