PHILADELPHIA — Doctors at Penn Medicine and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have successfully performed the world’s first pediatric double hand transplant. Zion Harvey, 8, was the recipient.
Doctors had to amputate both of Zion’s hands, as well as his feet, at age two to save him from a life-threatening infection. He hasn’t let a lack of hands hold him back. He loves playing guitar, video games and even peek-a-boo with his younger sister.
Zion has prosthetics on both of his legs to help him walk and even run, but was excited at the opportunity for new hands.
“I hoped for somebody to ask me do I want a hand transplant and it came true,” said Zion.
The almost 11 hour operation was performed earlier this month by a team of 40 doctors, nurses and other medical staff, led by Dr. L. Scott Levin. The surgery itself is amazing, but the heart and spirit of the little boy at the center of it is also gaining lots of attention.
“When I first met him, I said to him, ‘Why do you want hands, Zion?’ And he said ‘Cause I want to swing on the monkey bars.’ That’s a pretty logical answer for an 8 year old. And a pretty profound statement to me,” said Dr. Levin. “You would think an 8 year old would be overwhelmed or bewildered, or unclear as to the pathway we were setting for him.”
Zion also had to endure a kidney transplant, with the donation coming from his mother. Already being on anti-rejection drugs from the kidney transplant and his awesomely upbeat attitude made him a perfect candidate for the hand transplant surgery.
During the operation, the donor’s hands and forearms were attached by connecting bone, blood vessels, nerves, muscles, tendons and skin. Several of the surgeons on the team had already participated in hand transplants for adult patients, but this was a first for a pediatric patient.
“The issue with children is they have areas of bone called growth plates,” said Dr. Levin. “We had to be very careful when we attached the donor hands to Zion that we did not violate or injure the growth plates because we want his hands to grow and lengthen.”
Zion responded well to the surgery, just as doctors expected. Several weeks into recovery, he is working hard in physical therapy to begin using his new hands.