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8-Year-Old Boy Is First Child to Receive Double-Hand Transplant

The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia/YouTube

The Short of It

At 3 years old, Zion Harvey, of Maryland, battled sepsis infection that resulted in kidney failure and the amputation of his hands and feet. When he was 4 years old, he had a kidney transplant with a kidney donated by his mom. Now 8, the boy recently underwent surgery to give him two donor hands—a first for such a young patient—at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

The Lowdown

Leg prosthetics have allowed Zion to be very active—walking, running and jumping—and he learned to use his forearms to write, eat and play video games. But he's always wanted to play on the monkey bars and throw a football. Up to this point, only adults have had double hand transplants because of possible complications later in life from anti-rejection drugs. But because Zion already has to take anti-rejection drugs from his kidney transplant, he was a good candidate for the double-hand transplant surgery.

"We've been doing this since 1998, but in adults. This type of transplant has never been done in a child," said Dr. Scott Levin, chair of orthopaedic surgery at Penn Medicine and director of the hospital's hand transplantation program. "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."

After 10 hours in the operating room with a medical staff of 40 surrounding him, Zion woke up to find he had hands again, thanks to a gracious donor of a similar age. Now, the little boy is resting in the hospital as doctors watch for any signs of rejection or infection. So far, so good. Zion is already able to flex his fingers, and his doctors say he should regain full feeling and have a functional grasp. He's now looking forward to having a party with his friends so he can show off his new hands.

The Upshot

Technology is simply amazing. Doctors were able to reconnect bone, nerve, muscles, blood vessels, tendons and skin during this monumental procedure. Think about that for minute. Doctors truly have given this boy a new direction in life, and he's incredibly appreciative.

"I want to say to you guys, thank you for helping me through this bumpy road," Zion said to his doctors and family at a press conference Tuesday.

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