A 57-year-old man from Alberta, Georgia has become the first person in the U.S. to receive a double hand transplant. After undergoing a ten-hour surgery that ended Monday night, the patient, Jeff Kepner, is in critical but stable condition, according to Amy Dugas Rose, a spokesperson for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UMPC), where team of ten surgeons carried out the operation.
Kepner, who lost both hands and feet to a bacterial infection a decade ago, will need intense physical therapy before he is able to use his hands effectively, according to Rose.
Kepner is reportedly receiving a bone marrow transplant from the donor sometime in the next few days, which is part of a special protocol developed at UMPC that aims to minimize the amount of anti-rejection drugs transplant recipients need to take. These drugs, which suppress the immune system, help prevent the body from attacking the transplanted tissue, but they also increase susceptibility to infections and cancer and may eventually lead to kidney failure, says Kadiyala Ravindra, a transplant surgeon at the University of Louisville in Kentucky who has been involved in single hand transplants at Louisville's Jewish Hospital. The idea behind the bone marrow graft, which is not standard in these types of surgeries, is to reeducate the immune system to recognize the transplanted tissue as its own, he explains.
The double hand transplant performed yesterday is the first in the U.S. but the ninth worldwide, according to the Associated Press. There have also been six single hand transplants in the U.S. since 1999 – five at the Jewish hospital and one at UMPC.
The last recipient was a 24-year-old former marine who lost his right hand in a military exercise. His operation was at UPMC on March 14, according to Rose, and he has been doing several hours of therapy every day since his operation. He is now able to pick up objects with his new hand.
And speaking of transplants we now know the identity of the first face transplant recipient in the U.S.: It was 46-year-old Connie Culp of Ohio, who had the transplant last year and has just revealed her new face to the world, the Associated Press reports.
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