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Organ donor known as ‘caring and loving’

/ Source: The Associated Press

Jeff Keen wanted to help people, perhaps by becoming a nurse or a counselor. He died at 23 and never realized those career ambitions, but, in death, he is helping people through organ donation.

Last week, Keen’s hands were transplanted onto a Georgia man at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the country’s first double hand transplant. 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, of DuBois, was “in many was a pretty typical 20-something guy. Central Pennsylvania. 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, Fla.

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

Keen was also a big Pittsburgh Steelers fan.

“I think he would be surprised and a little amused at the stir he caused. I think he’d be probably be proud — and hopeful the recipient is not a Falcons fan,” his brother said.

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 onto Jeff Kepner, 57, of Augusta, Ga. Kepner 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 people nationwide are organ donors. In Pennsylvania, 45 percent of licensed drivers are donors.

More than 7,100 people in Pennsylvania are waiting for transplants; nationwide, about 101,000 people are waiting. About 28,000 transplants were performed in 2008.