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The US's first double hand transplant patient says the hands don't work at all

The US's first double hand transplant patient says the hands don't work at all

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AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

Jeff Kepner, the first American to receive a double hand transplant seven years ago, now says the hands have never functioned at all. "From day one I have never been able to use my hands," he said in a recent interview with Time.

Kepner was the first American to undergo the experimental surgery, which, while risky, had the potential to greatly improve his quality of life. Kepner lost both his hands due to sepsis in 1999, according to Time. Up until the hand transplants, he had been using prosthetics, which enabled him to drive and remain employed — now he can do neither.

This complete failure may be an exception

While disheartening, the complete failure of Kepner's transplant may be an exception — at least according to his doctors at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "The other three patients have had significant functional return in their hands and have been able to resume completely independent living, including driving, working, and going to school," Dr. W.P. Andrew Lee, Kepner's lead surgeon, told Time.

When it comes to removing the transplants, Kepner's options are limited. If doctors were to completely remove the transplants, there would be no guarantee he'd be able to go back to using prosthetics. And a partial removal could cause Kepner's body to reject the hands.

For now, Kepner doesn't seem interested in either option: "I am not going through all those operations again," he told Time.

About a week ago, doctors in the UK performed the first double hand transplant on a man who had lost both his hands in a machinery accident, according to the BBC. His doctors say he is already showing signs of movement.