Double hand transplant recipient fights rejection
A Georgia man who received a double hand transplant at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center is hospitalized in Pittsburgh with symptoms of rejection, his doctors said Thursday.
The symptoms involve a rash in Jeff Kepner's hands, something doctors told the family to expect within the first year of the surgery, his wife told the Tribune-Review.
"It's a common occurrence," Valarie Kepner said. "It's something they expected. He's doing fine."
Doctors told the family the symptoms do not mean Kepner, 58, will lose his hands, which were transplanted May 4 at UPMC during a nine-hour surgery.
Kepner, a former pastry chef, returned to his hometown of Augusta in October and has undergone daily therapy to gain use of his hands, which came from a 23-year-old deceased man.
He first noticed redness on his hands last week and notified doctors in Pittsburgh, who are monitoring his progress. The Kepners sent doctors photos of his hands and were instructed to come to UPMC Montefiore in Oakland.
They arrived Tuesday morning after a 10-hour drive, Valarie Kepner said. She did not know how long her husband would remain hospitalized.
Dr. W.P. Andrew Lee, who oversees Kepner's case, said Kepner is being treated with an immunosuppresant cream that is applied to the skin. Lee said Kepner has shown significant improvement since his hospitalization.
Nearly all hand transplant recipients experience episodes of rejection in the first year after the surgery, said Lee, chairman of plastic and reconstructive surgery. Doctors have performed about 40 hand transplants worldwide.
"We are encouraged that he has had only one episode of rejection in the nine months since his transplant, while being maintained on only one systemic anti-rejection drug," Lee said.
Kepner is the first patient in the United States to receive two hands simultaneously. The surgery is part of a recent program at UPMC that aims to limit the amount of anti-rejection drugs patients take after transplants.
Kepner lost his hands and feet after becoming ill in May 1999. Doctors in his hometown diagnosed him with a bacterial infection that spread throughout his body. The infection shut down his liver and kidneys and stopped the blood flow to his limbs, necessitating that doctors amputate his hands and feet.
Kepner initially was skeptical about transplantation, but his wife convinced him to undergo the operation so he could regain some independence.
His surgery was the second hand transplant at UPMC, after an operation on Josh Maloney of Bethel Park. Maloney, 25, a former Marine, received a hand from a deceased donor and has learned to use it with remarkable speed, his doctors said.
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