8-year-old has double-hand transplant

Zion Harvey (left) before his operation and after (above). He is looking forward to being able to throw a football with his own hands.
Zion Harvey before his operation and after (above). He is looking forward to being able to throw a football with his own hands.PHOTO: CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF PHILADELPHIA
Zion Harvey (left) before his operation and after (above). He is looking forward to being able to throw a football with his own hands.
Zion Harvey (above) before his operation and after. He is looking forward to being able to throw a football with his own hands.PHOTO: CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF PHILADELPHIA

NEW YORK • An eight-year-old American boy has become the world's youngest recipient of a double-hand transplant.

Doctors at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia on Tuesday said they took 10 hours to carry out the incredibly complicated surgery on Zion Harvey. The boy's hands and feet had previously been amputated and he also had a kidney transplant following a major infection.

The smiling, precocious boy from Maryland had learnt to eat, write and even play video games without hands. Now he says he is looking forward to being able to throw a football with his own hands.

It took a team of 40 doctors, nurses and other staff from plastic and reconstructive surgery, orthopedic surgery, anesthesiology and radiology to pull off the pioneering surgery earlier this month.

Surgeons first painstakingly attached bone with steel plates and screws. Then they connected the arteries and veins. Once the blood was circulating, surgeons connected tendons, muscles and nerves.

"Zion's kidney transplant following his infection made him a candidate for transplant because he was already taking anti-rejection medication," said Dr Benjamin Chang, co-director of the hospital's hand transplantation programme.

Zion has splints on his hands to keep them in one position most of the time so he can heal properly, and occupational therapists visit him three to five times a day to help him learn to use his new hands.

"There is a lot of healing that has to happen," occupational therapist Kelly Ferry told the Baltimore Sun newspaper. "We have to protect the range of motion."

Doctors said Zion should be able to return home in a few weeks.

"This surgery was the result of years of training, followed by months of planning and preparation by a remarkable team," said Dr Scott Levin, the team's lead surgeon. "The success of Penn's first bilateral hand transplant on an adult, performed in 2011, gave us a foundation to adapt the intricate techniques and coordinated plans required to perform this type of complex procedure on a child," he said, referring to a hand transplant he helped perform on a woman in 2011 at Penn Medicine in Philadelphia.

Zion's prospects are believed to be promising because children are better able to regenerate nerves than adults.

The world's first double hand and forearm transplant surgery was on a 33-year-old man in January 2000, in France.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 30, 2015, with the headline '8-year-old has double-hand transplant'. Print Edition | Subscribe