Double hand-transplant now under way for Augusta man

An Augusta man is in surgery today to become the country’s first double hand-transplant recipient.

Jeff Kepner, 57, who lost his hands and feet to a bacterial infection 10 years ago, went into surgery at 8 a.m. at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said his wife, Valarie.

“He’s in surgery and I’m just waiting for the next 20 hours,” she said. A little more than four hours in, she has not gotten word from the surgical team but that is a good sign, she said.

“No news is good news,” Mrs. Kepner said. The surgeons have promised to talk to her about halfway through. A single hand transplant typically takes 8-10 hours and a double hand transplant would add about 4-5 hours to that, the University of Pittsburgh surgeons said previously.

Two transplant teams would work simultaneously, one on each side, to attach the hands. While there have been five single hand transplants in the U.S., and about a dozen double-hand-transplants worldwide, Mr. Kepner would be the first U.S. case.

The University of Pittsburgh is also using a new anti-rejection protocol with this hand transplant that involves giving Mr. Kepner a bone marrow transplant from the donor after the surgery, to help develop tolerance of his immune system to the new hands, and then using a single medication to help prevent rejection after that.

Called the Pittsburgh protocol, it has been used with organ transplants with success prior to this case, the surgeons said.

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