Eight year old Zion Harvey became the first child to ever receive a double hand transplant, led by Dr. L. Scott Levin. At the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Zion underwent an 11 hour surgery performed by a team of about 40 medical staff earlier this month.
When Zion was two, complications from infection resulted in multi-organ failure and the amputation of his hands and feet. He wore prosthetic feet from then on but his arms ended in a stub at his wrists. At four years old he underwent a kidney transplant from his mother. Despite all this, he learned to write, eat, and play games.
When Zion was placed on a waiting list for the hands, his family was told they would have to wait for a while for a donor, if one ever came about. Knowing they would have to be from another child, and had to be approved to be donated by a grieving family, the chances were slim. However, after only three months Zion had a match.
When a transplant occurs, the body’s natural instinct is to reject the new part. The patient must take anti-rejection medication in order to allow the body time to accept the donor part. Since Zion had reacted well to the donor kidney, he was a prime candidate for the operation.
The operation connected his new and old bones using steel plates and screws. They then with scrupulous attention to detail had to reconnect his nerves, tendons, muscles, arteries and veins. The procedure went smoothly, and two weeks later Zion was already holding onto small objects by himself.
The only thing more remarkable than the operation was Zion’s positive attitude and love for life. He speaks with maturity beyond his years, knowing that the teasing he experiences is kids being kids, and that everyone thinks differently.
“I just think some of my classmates, they don’t mean to say mean things to me, but it just slips out. So, either someone says something to me, and I just figured it just slipped out and they didn’t mean to say it. Everybody has their own way of thinking things.”
He understood that the operation may not turn out and was thankful regardless, stating all he needed was family. Now we wait to see how his body will react over a longer period of time, with the hope that this endearing little boy can finally climb the monkey bars with his friends.