The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia released the story of Zion Harvey this week. At just eight years old, he is officially the youngest patient ever for a double pediatric bilateral hand transplant!
Zion is a sweet and charming young man who has had it rough right from the start. When he was two years old he contracted sepsis and as a result of the life threatening infection he had multi-organ system failure which required amputation of both of his hands and feet. He started dialysis and two years later received a kidney transplant (his mother, Pattie, was the donor).
Despite his hardships, Zion was looking forward to this procedure. He told the camera crew:
“I will be proud of what hands I get.”
The Philadelphia Children’s Hospital is going to be taking care of the work, the healing and the financial cost of the surgery for the Harvey family.
Christine McAndrew is the coordinator of the Hand Transplantation Program. She says that Zion was watched for over a year and a half to make sure he’d be “a good candidate for hand transplant”.
Co-director of the program, Benjamin Chang, admits that this procedure has “never been attempted” for a child. However since he was already “on medication for rejection” for his donated kidney, they could “piggy back of that same medication”. Anti-rejection medication is not something to be taken lightly. It is a medication that needs to be taken for life and “those medications increase the risk of infection and they also increase your risk of having some cancer develop later on in life.” Seeing as how Zion is already needing the medication, it seemed like an easy decision to go ahead with the operation.
Scott Levin is the Director of the Hand Transplantation Program. Levin gushes about what a beautiful and strong boy Zion is. He said that Zion is “a very, very intelligent young man” and that their hope is to give him the kind of childhood he deserves. Zion had successfully adapted to life without hands. He was able to eat, play video games and even write…but his dream of being able to play on the monkey bars was out of reach without the operation.
Dr. Levin disclosed that each year, on average, there are only fifteen children who are eligible to be hand donors, yet that doesn’t mean that there are fifteen sets of hands available each year. It’s difficult to approach families grieving their lost children and convince them to give up a piece of their child.
When Pattie got the call that there was a donor for Zion she was in disbelief, but just like that the surgery was scheduled for June. The team consisted of over 40 qualified surgeons, nurses and anaesthesiologists who worked through the night. The team had to work with nerves, blood vessels, bones, skin, arteries and muscles. The operation started at around 5:30pm and was finished nearly 11 hours later.
Pattie interviewed with Today magazine. She told them:
“When I saw Zion’s hands for the first time after the operation, I just felt like he was being reborn. I see my son in the light I haven’t seen him in five years. (…) It was like having a newborn. It was a very joyous moment for me.”
But this is just the beginning of Zion’s journey. For the next couple months he will stay at the Children’s Hospital and receive the best inpatient rehabilitation and therapy care he could possibly wish for. His upbeat and optimistic attitude has blown away his doctors. Levin said after the surgery Zion “woke up smiling” and since then “there hasn’t been one whimper, one tear, one complaint.” He remarked:
“I’ve never seen a tear, never an untoward face, never a complaint. He’s always positive. And that, in and of itself, is remarkable.”
The amazing procedure when done on children may have a learning curve and bring up new complications but it also gives new hope to other children who are in Zion’s position.
The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia “First Bilateral Hand Transplant in a Child: Zion’s Story” Youtube. 28 July 2015. Web. 30 July 2015.