Mere days after Chris King made headlines as the first person in the United Kingdom to receive a double hand transplant, Time reports the patient who was a similar trailblazer on the other side of the Atlantic is dismayed by the results of his procedure.
In 2009, Jeff Kepner was a Georgia man whose bout with a particularly aggressive strep infection led to him losing both legs below the knee and both arms below the elbow. He became the first person in the United States to undergo a double hand transplant after his wife saw a news story about the potential procedure on Today.
Kepner had the surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, quickly becoming the focus of countless news stories that played up both the medical miracle and human interest angles. He made his own appearance on Today, where he said, “I’d sure like to hold my daughter’s hand or my wife’s hand.”
One year later, CNN was already reporting that Kepner was having difficulty with the transplants. Even then, he expressed misgiving about the surgery, saying, “I got it. And I regret it. It’s over and done with. I didn’t dream there would be this much therapy.”
Now, after many more years, Kepner tells Time the hands never worked and have become a burden. Weary of surgeries, Kepner says he is unlikely to reverse the procedure, which would open himself up to completely new set of risks.
Arriving when it does, the Time story seems like a deliberate and pointed rebuttal to enthusiasm about King’s double-hand transplant. It’s worth noting, then, that others who’ve had the surgery have enjoyed better outcomes. Included in that number is Zion Harvey, the eight-year-old who last summer became the first pediatric patient to undergo the procedure. Before the calendar year was up, ABC News was reporting Harvey could hold utensils and write out a holiday wish list on his own.