An 8-year-old 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's forearms were heavily bandaged but his hands were visible as he flashed some big smiles Tuesday at a hospital news conference, where he thanked everyone for helping him along a "bumpy road," including his extended family.
The boy from the suburban Baltimore community of Owings Mills received the transplant earlier this month at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, though doctors did not publicly disclose the 11-hour operation until this week.
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.
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"It's a huge step forward in the movement of reconstructive surgery," orthopedic surgeon L. Scott Levin said.
Zion, a bright and precocious child, contracted an 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, Patty Ray.
She said he was doing well without hands, but the surgery was what he wanted.
"There was just something in his eyes when he says he wants to do it, so who am I to hold him back?" Ray said.
Leg prosthetics have allowed Zion to be very active, including walking, running and jumping; he had learned to use his forearms to write, eat and play video games, and has been attending school. Physicians hope his new hands will enable him to achieve 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, which made him a good candidate for the hand transplant, doctors said.
Doctors say Zion will spend several weeks in physical rehab at the hospital before returning home.
The donor's family chose to remain anonymous.
Children's Hospital said it would not hold the family liable for any costs beyond that which may be covered by medical insurance.