'Today' show features hand transplant patient from Augusta

Thursday, July 16, 2009 6:27 AM
Last updated 6:07 PM
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Jeff Kepner sits in the living room of his Augusta home. Above him hangs his and his wife's favorite painting: a detail from Michelangelo's paintings in the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City.  File/Staff
Jeff Kepner sits in the living room of his Augusta home. Above him hangs his and his wife's favorite painting: a detail from Michelangelo's paintings in the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City.


Jeff Kepner, of Augusta, the first patient to undergo a double hand transplant in the United States, was featured on NBC's Today Show this morning.

Mr. Kepner, 57, lost his hands and feet in 1999 because of a bacterial infection. He underwent transplant surgery May 4 at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. After a month in the hospital, he has undergone intensive outpatient rehabilitation in Pittsburgh to gain control of his new hands.

This afternoon Mr. Kepner spoke at a news conference about his surgery and showed the progress he has made since the surgery.

“I am looking forward to the opportunity to regain my independence. It will be great to hold my wife’s and daughter’s hands again and to be able to do things with them that I haven't been able to do for over 10 years,” said Mr. Kepner.

A transplant team of surgeons, hematologists, nurses, therapists and researchers has cared for Mr. Kepner since the nine-hour surgery. He receives daily occupational therapy as his physicians monitor him closely for signs of rejection.

“This groundbreaking surgery represents the culmination of more than 20 years of research in the field of hand transplantation,” said W.P. Andrew Lee, chief of the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and leader of the Univsity of Pittsburgh Medical Center's transplant surgical team.

“Thus far, Jeff is meeting our expectations for recovery. He is making steady progress in hand therapy, and we expect him to regain movement and sensation in the transplanted hands in the next nine to 12 months as he works with a team of occupational therapists.”

Although surgeons around the world have performed successful hand transplants, they have used a traditional protocol of multiple immunosuppressive medications to prevent rejection of the grafts, increasing the risk of diabetes, infections, hypertension and other disorders.

Mr. Kepner appeared with his wife, Valarie, and his doctor on the Today Show.

Mr. Kepner was asked how much feeling he has in his hands.

"I can wiggle my fingers, if you can see that, a bit in both hands," Mr. Kepner said, demonstrating a little movement for the camera. "It's getting there."

Mr. Kepner said he looks forward to being able to better interact with people again.

"The first thing I want to be able to do is to hold my wife's hand, hold my daughter's hand, and cook again," Mr. Kepner said. "It sounds silly, but those are some of the things I'm anxious to get back to."

Mr. Kepner said his daughter "is anxious to get her daddy back."

"One of the first things she said was 'Oh boy, he can cook again,'" Kepner said.

Dr. Lee said that nerves regenerate at a rate of about an inch per month and that Mr. Kepner will regain feeling in his hands within nine to 12 months of the surgery. He should regain the full use of his hands within two years.


See Mr. Kepner's website at:


Watch the video at http://today.msnbc.msn.com


May 14 - Brother of hand donor says he would be proud

May 9 - Seeing fingertips 'kind of cool'

May 8 - Hands have taken well, doctor says

May 6 - Man in critical but stable condition

May 5 - Man is undergoing 2 hand transplants

February 24 - Family looks toward what could be after hand surgery

February 23 - Church life strengthens family

February 22 - Amputee is in line for double transplant

February 22 - Surgeons' new strategy aims to prevent rejection

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sunflower61 07/16/09 - 11:15 am
God Bless this man and his

God Bless this man and his courage. I'm rooting for him to make a full recovery!

Native007 07/16/09 - 02:26 pm
Man that's insane that he

Man that's insane that he lost all of that! Glad he is recovering. Give this guy a hand for being strong...

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