Seven years ago, Jeff Kepner was the very first person in the United States to receive a double hand transplant. Today, he wishes he’d never done it. Unlike this adorable 8-year-old boy whose double hand transplant left him nothing but grateful, Kepner would reverse his revolutionary surgery if it was possible.
Why? Because his hands don’t work — a possibly that Kepner was aware of going in. Since the surgery, his overall functionality has decreased from 75 to 0 percent.
According to TIME, Kepner underwent a nine-hour surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in 2009 after losing his hands and feet to sepsis caused by a strep throat infection. While he understood the risks associated with the experimental transplant, such as the chance that his body might reject the donor hands or that the surgery wouldn’t be successful, Kepner says he always thought reverse surgery was a possibility. Unfortunately, Kepner seems to be stuck with the non-functioning hands now. Returning to prosthetics isn’t as simple as he once thought, and the risks aren’t worth the challenges, according to Doctor Vijay Gorantla, the medical director supervising Kepner’s case.
Even if amputation proved possible, Gorantla believes there’s no guarantee that Kepner would ever be able to use prosthetics again and that “rigorous physical therapy would be required.”
Though he hasn’t heard from the doctors who performed his surgery in years, TIME learned that the three other patients who received hand transplants by the same team have significant function. Such is the nature of these operations — not everyone experiences the same results and unfortunately Kepner’s results weren’t ideal.
Because his surgery was ultimately unsuccessful, Kepner says he “can do absolutely nothing,” and spends his time sitting in a chair, “wearing out the TV.” His wife recently retired to take care of him full time. The family has set up a GoFundMe page to cover expenses. Despite the lack of function in his donor hands, Kepner says he doesn’t hold it against the doctors and accepted the risks before undergoing surgery.