Following an 11 hours surgery performed by a team of four surgeons assisted by a medical staff of 40 at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Zion Harvey waked up with new hands. He describes the feeling as “weird at first, but then good”.
Zion, who five years ago lost his hands by amputation due to a severe kidney infection, can now move and flex his new thumbs and fingers and will follow intensive and long rehabilitation program for further progress. Also, Zion will be monitored for a few months for any sign of transplant rejection. He will follow regular check-ups for his whole life.
“We’ve been doing this since 1998, but in adults. This type of transplant has never been done in a child,” Dr. Scott Levin, chair of orthopaedic surgery at Penn Medicine and director of the hospital said. “It’s taken us 17 years to move from adult to child, and in this little 8-year-old boy, Zion Harvey, this was a historic moment that demonstrated it was possible.”
“I had a lot of questions. I was excited, but I was skeptical because I am a mother. I would never have thought in a million years when he got the amputation that there would be a chance for him to have his limbs back”, Zion’s mother, Pattie Ray declared. She also called the transplant a “modern miracle”.
During the very complex surgery, with the participation of very skilled and experienced teams, the donor hands were attached by connecting bone, blood vessels, nerves, muscles, tendons and skin.
“In this case, because this is an amputation more toward the wrist than the elbow, Zion’s muscles to create grasp and finger extension were there. They just weren’t hooked up to anything for a while,” Levin said. “His muscles have already started to power his fingers, making them flex.”
The donation of the new hands was coordinated by the Philadelphia-based Gift of Life Donor Program. Due to the fact that hand transplants are very difficult procedures and the prognosis is always worse with an amputation closer to the wrist,it is yet to be seen how much dexterity little Zion will gain in his hands in the future.