Jeff Kepner in the living room of his Augusta home underneath a copy of his and his wife's favorite painting, Michelangelo's "Creation of Adam."
By Mark Roth Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
UPMC surgeons were expected to be at work until early this morning performing the nation's first double hand transplant.
The recipient is Jeff Kepner, 57, of Augusta, Ga., who lost both hands and both feet to a sepsis infection a decade ago.
He went into surgery at 8 a.m. yesterday, his wife Valarie told The Augusta Chronicle, and was expected to be in surgery for up to 20 hours, with two teams working to attach a deceased donor's hands to his arms.
There have been six single hand transplants done in the United States -- five at Louisville Jewish Hospital in Kentucky and one at UPMC, which was performed March 14 on former Marine Joshua Maloney of Bethel Park, who lost his right hand during a training accident in 2007 at Marine Corps Base Quantico.
Worldwide, 32 other people have received hand transplants, and eight of those got double transplants.
As part of what UPMC is calling the Pittsburgh Protocol, Mr. Kepner will get an infusion of bone marrow cells from the donor in about a week, assuming his initial surgery goes well. The marrow cells are designed to help his body accept the transplanted hands as compatible tissue.
Dr. W.P. Andrew Lee, who heads the UPMC hand transplant team, has said the protocol is aimed at lowering the amount of ongoing anti-rejection medication patients must take, an important goal, given the fact that such transplants are not life-saving, but are done to restore a person's function and autonomy.
Originally from Pennsylvania, Mr. Kepner is a former Air Force member who moved to Georgia several years ago. One evening, after feeling as if he had the flu, Mr. Kepner went to the hospital, and didn't wake up again until three weeks later.
He had sepsis, a severe bacterial blood infection, and when he awoke, his arms and feet were already blackened from the illness, and he knew his hands and feet would have to be amputated, according to information compiled by UPMC.
His daughter was 3 at the time and is now 13. In the ensuing years, he has had two hip replacements.
With the transplants, "he's looking forward to regaining some independence, living on his own schedule and holding his daughter's hand," UPMC's statement said. "Her dad doesn't have one picture of them holding hands. He's looking forward to that day."