Hand Transplant Recipient Regrets Having Surgery

"I can do absolutely nothing"
By Luke Roney,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 25, 2016 4:33 PM CDT
Updated Jul 26, 2016 12:03 AM CDT
Hand Transplant Recipient Regrets Having Surgery
Jeff Kepner lifts one of his transplanted hands soon after the surgery in 2009.   (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

In 2009, Jeff Kepner became the first person in the US to receive a double hand transplant. Today, the 64-year-old wishes he never had the surgery. “From day one I have never been able to use my hands,” he tells Time. “I can do absolutely nothing.” Kepner lost his hands in 1999 to a bacterial infection, and he used prosthetics prior to the transplant. He figures he was 75% functional, compared with "0%" today. He was already lamenting his decision to have the surgery back in 2010, telling CNN (which described the new hands as "ill-fitting, flesh-colored anchors fused to his arms"), "When I had the hooks, I worked and drove. I did lots of things." Now, Kepner's wife, Valarie, has had to quit her job to care for him, and they have launched a GoFundMe page to help with the financial burden.

It's a far cry from the hope Valarie Kepner had when her husband had the surgery at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. At the time, she told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "I want him to be able to hold our daughter's hand and hold his grandchildren's hands some day. And I know that sounds silly, but to be able to touch again is important." Having the hands removed would pose risks, Dr. Vijay Gorantla of UPMC tells Time, and Kepner may not be able to use prosthetics again. He says with more surgeries and physical therapy, Kepner likely "could improve the function of his hands." But Kepner says he's done with surgeries. Dr. W.P. Andrew Lee, who performed the transplant, tells Time that the "great majority" of recipients have had more successful results. (Lee is now working on a much different type of transplant.)

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