News 12 at 6 o'clock; March 26, 2009
The first thing you notice when you walk into Jeff Kepner's home is the painting right above his favorite chair. Michelangelo's "The Creation of Man" used to be a reminder of what he's lost.
Now, it's a promise of what he'll gain.
Jeff admits it "sounds like Frankenstein. I didn't even know it was possible."
But it is possible, and Jeff is about to be the first person in the United States to have a double hand transplant. According to Jeff, "one of the best things that will come out of this is the touch. You'll be able to touch and feel again."
Jeff hasn't touched or felt in ten years. That's when he came down with a form of strep throat. It put him in a coma for three weeks, and when he woke up, he learned he would have to trade his limbs for his life. "They wanted to take the hands off and then amputate the feet in a couple of weeks, and I said no. Do them all at once and get it over with."
So Jeff got used to life with no hands and no feet, and that's the way he's been living for a decade.
Recently, though, his wife Valerie came across a phone number that would change everything.
She learned the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center was looking for people for a history-making double hand transplant, so she called.
Valarie couldn't believe her luck when the person on the other end of the line started talking. "She said, it's amazing. Your timing is unbelievable. We are presenting new cases to the doctor in an hour and a half."
Valarie didn't tell Jeff she did any of this until he was selected.
She just knew Jeff was perfect, even if Jeff didn't know that yet. She remembers, "we did not see eye to eye at all. I was very enthusiastic. I was on cloud nine thinking of the possibilities."
Jeff joined her there on cloud nine, once he learned more about it. His 13-year-old daughter Jordan is excited too. She says she is most looking forward to "the experience of getting to feel my Dad's hands hugging me or feeling him touching my hands. Being able to just relate back to that."
And Jeff could feel her hands too, in as little as four months after the surgery.
It, however, will not be easy. It will take a lot of rehab, but if it works, Jeff knows this will help more than just himself. "I'll tell you what. God kept me around for a reason. I was supposed to die."
Instead, he lived, so that his story could touch others.
Jeff could get the call any minute now, and when he does he's gone. Two teams of doctors, one for each hand, will work ten hours to attach them. Those hands have to be a perfect match.
That's difficult because they have to come from someone who specifies they want their body donated. Being an organ donor is not enough.
The hospital is covering the surgery, but there are other expenses. The Kepners are having a fundraiser at O'Charlies March 31st from 4:00 to 8:00 pm. Ten percent of sales will go to the transplant fund.
Jeff also has a website. We are linking you there below if you would like to donate that way.