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So far, so good with double-hand transplant

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It's just a small wiggle of his right thumb, over and over again. But it is progress for Jeff Kepner, of Augusta, the nation's first double-hand transplant patient.

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Jeff Kepner works with occupational therapist Ray Domyslawski on Friday at Doctors Hospital Rehab Health Centers in Augusta.  Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Jeff Kepner works with occupational therapist Ray Domyslawski on Friday at Doctors Hospital Rehab Health Centers in Augusta.

On Friday, one of Mr. Kepner's doctors from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center checked in on him as he continues his rehabilitation at The Hand Center at Doctors Hospital Rehab Health Centers. It had been almost six months to the day since transplant surgeons attached part of the forearms and hands of the donor, and so far it looks good.

"From a clinical perspective, in terms of functional outcome, it is absolutely what we were expecting," said Gerald Brandacher, scientific director of the Composite Tissue Allotransplantation Program at the Pittsburgh center. "Even for certain tasks, he is ahead of schedule, doing better than we were expecting."

For instance, Mr. Kepner said he can feel hot and cold in the palms of his transplanted hands. More encouraging for Mr. Kepner was that he could feel his wife, Valarie, stroking his right forearm, said Jon Keith, a fellow in the transplant program.

"I could feel the sensation," Mr. Kepner said, as opposed to just the rubbing sensation. He described "more of a ticklish feeling."

Those are signs that the nerves are growing back, a process that will likely take a long time because the nerves grow about a millimeter a day, Dr. Brandacher said.

Mr. Kepner has had no acute rejection despite being on very low levels of a single immunosuppressive drug, Dr. Brandacher said.

Mr. Kepner will have to visit the Pittsburgh center in about three months, and after a year make yearly visits, assuming all goes well. But after six months, his doctors now say he can go out in public, with certain precautions.

"Really, getting the patient his life back, this is the overall goal," Dr. Brandacher said.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.

FIND OUT MORE

To read more about Jeff Kepner's case, including how to help the family with its mounting medical bills, go to his Web site: newhandsforjeff.com.


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