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New hands but still no feeling

JEFF Kepner says he is looking forward to being able to feel his wife's and his daughter's hands when he holds them.

The 57-year-old is the first American double hand transplant patient.

He held hands with his wife Valarie on Thursday as he talked to news reporters about his recovery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, where he underwent the nine-hour surgery in early May.

But Kepner cannot feel his wife's touch. So far, he can move his fingers a little bit but has no feelings in his new hands because the nerves have not grown into them. Nerves grow about an inch a month, according to his doctors.

Kepner said he does daily therapy to develop muscle strength to use his hands, and he hoped to inspire others who need such surgery to consider it.

He lost his hands and feet a decade ago to a bacterial infection, and said he did not want to undergo the surgery at first.

He could manage with his prosthetics and had read that the world's first double hand transplant patient had to have the hands removed because his body rejected them.

Kepner shows no sign of rejection and is making steady progress, but it could be a year or two until he gains full movement of his fingers, said Dr W.P. Andrew Lee, the hospital's chief of plastic surgery.


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