57-year-old Jeff Kepner, lost both hands and both feet to a lost his hands due to sepsis
Kepner, became first person to receive a double hand transplant in the US after nine-hour long surgery
Kepner’s transplanted hands have never worked, and remain completely non-functional
Kepner was able to carry out normal daily activities, drive, keep a job, prior to transplant, had 75% functionality
Now, with 0% functionality, can neither drive nor kept a job in 7 years
Ieff Kepner had 75% functionality with prothesis before the double hand surgery seven years ago
America’s first double hand transplant recipient wants the both removed because they haven’t worked in the seven years he’s had them.
Jeff kepner, a retired Air Force educational planner from Augusta, then 57, had lost both hands and both feet to a due to sepsis that started from a strep throat infection.
The quadruple amputation forced a life style which meant that for almost 10 years he was dependent on his wife to perform the simple day to day activities, most people take for granted. To bathe for instance, he had to put on special prosthetic “water legs” to get into the shower, and then wait for his wife Valarie to get in with him to brace him and scrub him.
February 2009, photo. Valarie Kepner washes her husband, Jeff Kepner’s legs following a shower in the morning before she heads to work
Jeff was therefore super motivated to become the nation’s first double hand transplant recipient, in 2009. Ten years after the infection, Kepner underwent a nine-hour surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) to attach hands from a donor.
Fast forward to 2016, Kepner, now 64, cannot wait to see his transplantd hands out of the door. Seven years on, Mr Kepner’s hands are completely non-functional, and in a recent interview, he said ‘From day one I have never been able to use my hands,’ he said.
‘I can do absolutely nothing. I sit in my chair all day and wear my TV out.’
Prior to the double transplant, Mr Kepner was able to carry out normal daily activities, such as driving, and he had a job. He used prosthetics, and while life wasn’t easy, he was able to perform activities he can no longer contemplate today.
Kepner knew there was a risk that his body could reject the hands or that the surgery wouldn’t be successful, but he had always assumed, and says he was told, that in a worst-case scenario, the procedure coould be reversed.
Jeff Kepner now has 0% functionality in both hands
Unfortunately for Mr Kepner, the procedures – which could be numerous – to remove the hands are risky, and may well not be possible.
If the hands were to be partially amputated, for instance, he would have to stay on daily drugs that stop his body from rejecting them. Kepner says that after seven years, he’s tired of surgeries, and will likely keep the non-functioning hands attached to his body. “I am not going through all those operations again,” he says.
The surgeon who led the transplant in 2009, Dr. W.P. Andrew Lee, says the need for removal is uncommon and has occurred in six out of 100 similar transplants in the U.S. and Europe.
“Mr. Kepner’s transplanted hands do not function as well as those of other hand transplant recipients,” says Lee. “Our team has performed bilateral hand/arm transplants in four patients to date, including Mr. Kepner. The other three patients have had significant functional return in their hands and have been able to resume completely independent living, including driving, working, and going to school.”
“Complex surgery such as hand transplant do not produce uniform results in everyone,” Lee adds, “but we have been encouraged by the functional return in the great majority of our recipients whose lives have been transformed by the procedure.”
Kepner however, says he hasn’t heard from Lee or any of the surgeons involved in the initial operation in years.
He has gone from 75% functionality using prosthetics to 0% which of course has greatly diminished his quality of life has taken a toll. Infact, his wife, Valarie, retired in May to take care of him full-time, and the family launched a GoFundMe page to cover log running costs .
For Kepner, would he go through with the surgery if he had to do it again. He says an emphatic ‘NO’. But adds, that he does not criticize the doctors who did the operation. “That’s the chance you take,” he says, “and that’s the chance I took.”