updated 5/14/2009 10:55:04 AM ET 2009-05-14T14:55:04

In the first U.S. double hand transplant, a 23-year-old man's hands were grafted onto another man at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, a procedure that the donor's brother said would have made him proud.

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Jeff Keen wanted to help people, perhaps by becoming a nurse or a counselor. He never realized those career ambitions, but, in death, he is helping people through organ donation.

His liver, kidneys, a lung and heart went to five other people and dozens more could benefit from his donation of tissue and corneas.

Keen was "in many was a pretty typical 20-something guy."

"He loved the outdoors. He loved fishing. He comes from a very close-knit family," his oldest brother, Daniel Rossi-Keen, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Tuesday from DeLand, Florida.

"Jeff had a heart that I often aspire to. Remarkably caring and loving," said Rossi-Keen, a college professor.

"I think he would be surprised and a little amused at the stir he caused. I think he'd be probably be proud," his brother said.

‘Moment of joy’
Keen was the youngest of four brothers and the father of a 1-year-old son. His brother wouldn't say how he died, only that it was an accident and not from a disease.

Rossi-Keen said his brother believed strongly in organ donation, signed up to be a donor when he first got his driver's license and urged his mother to become one, too.

"Going through this process, it's really opened my eyes to the incredible potential of organ donation," Rossi-Keen said.

At the funeral, Rossi-Keen said his brother had "stepped into the history of medicine."

Though the family is still grieving, Rossi-Keen said the fact that his brother's organs have helped so many people has been redemptive.

His mother, Patty Keen, said in a statement that the double hand transplant "was the first moment of joy I felt during this entire tragedy."

Rossi-Keen said he appreciated how the Center for Organ Recovery and Education, which worked with the family, addressed their concerns and ensured a difficult time went smoothly. CORE is one of 59 federally designated organ procurement organizations in the United States, serving western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and part of New York.

"They listened with us, cried with us, answered questions. They made a very tragic situation beautiful and hopeful," Rossi-Keen said.

Keen's hands were transplanted last week onto Jeff Kepner, 57, of Augusta, Georgia. Kepner, who had lost his hands and feet a decade ago to sepsis. He continues to make progress and is expected to receive a bone marrow infusion next week, his doctor said.

According to CORE, about 37 percent of Americans are registered organ donors.

Nationwide, about 101,000 people are waiting. About 28,000 transplants were performed in America in 2008.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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