8-Year-Old Boy in Baltimore Becomes World’s Youngest Double Hand Transplant

Long effort: A team of 40 worked for 11 hours on the breakthrough procedure earlier this month, but didn't announce the surgery until Tuesday (PHOTO CREDIT: Children's Hospital of Philadelphia)
Long effort: A team of 40 worked for 11 hours on the breakthrough procedure earlier this month, but didn’t announce the surgery until Tuesday (PHOTO CREDIT: Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia)

An 8-year-old Baltimore boy who lost his limbs to a serious infection has become the youngest patient to receive a double-hand transplant, surgeons said Tuesday.

Zion Harvey received the hands earlier this month at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, though doctors did not publicly disclose the 11-hour operation until now.

A 40-person medical team used steel plates and screws to attach the old and new bones. Surgeons then delicately reconnected arteries, veins, muscles, tendons and nerves.

Zion, a bright and precocious child, contracted a gangrene infection years ago that resulted in the amputation of his hands and feet. It also necessitated a kidney transplant, an organ he received from his mother.

Leg prosthetics have allowed Zion to be very active, including walking, running and jumping; he attends school and has learned to use his forearms to write, eat and play video games.

But Zion’s mother, Pattie Ray, wanted more for her son, so they looked into getting him prosthetics for his hands as well.

Not satisfied with the prototypes they tried, a doctor suggest that transplants could be an option for Zion.

Ray says the decision to go through with the procedure was completely her son’s.

‘It was Zion’s decision,’ Ray told the Baltimore Sun. ‘If he wanted them we were going to get them. If we didn’t we weren’t.’

When Zion made up his finds, doctors started the donor process.

Using statistics, they estimated that about only 15 children would donate in a given year who had the right size and color for Zion. While his hands are small now, they will grow with him like any other transplant.

When Ray got the call that a donor had come through, her son was heading to a sleepover with cousins and was a bit disappointed that he didn’t get to take part in any of the fun.

And when he got to the hospital, the reality of the daunting surgery kicked in and he told his mom he was nervous.

Overall the procedure was considered a success though, with just one complication.

At one point, one of Zion’s hands turned white – a sign of circulatory programs. So surgeons had to go back in and fix a blocked artery.

Physicians hope his new hands will enable many more milestones, including his wish to throw a football.

Several adults in the U.S. have received double-hand or double-arm transplants in the past few years.

Hospital officials in Philadelphia believe Zion is the youngest person to undergo a double-hand transplant, which requires a lifetime of immune-suppressing drugs to ensure the body doesn’t reject the new limbs.

Zion has already been taking anti-rejection drugs because of his donated kidney, making him a good candidate for the hand transplant, doctors said.

‘This is a monumental step,’ said L. Scott Levin, the lead surgeon on the procedure. ‘I hope personally we can help many more patients like Zion in the future.’

Doctors say Zion will spend several weeks in physical rehab at the hospital before returning home to Baltimore.

Zion is currently working with occupational therapists several times a day, and is not allowed to move his hands when not in their presence.

Right now they are working on small movements, like picking up light objects.

However, he appears to be transitioning back to life with hands just find, and has started instinctively scratching his nose with his new fingers.

Details on the donor and the operation’s cost were not immediately available.

SOURCE: Daily Mail, The Associated Press

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