Zion Harvey is like any other 8-year-old. He goes to school, loves his mommy and likes to play with his friends. But unlike most kids his age, Zion has had to deal with medical issues that most adults don't face in a lifetime: losing his hands, being one of them.
In fact, the 8-year-old Baltimore boy lived almost his entire life without them — when he was a baby, he came down with an infection that forced doctors to amputate both his legs and hands, and years later shut down his kidneys — but after receiving the first-ever pediatric double-hand transplant in the U.S., as announced by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia this Tuesday, that has changed.
No child in the United States has ever received a double-hand transplant, nor has the surgery ever been attempted on a minor. But after 18 months of prep work and receiving a hand donor just three months prior, his doctors made the transplant a reality.
A reality that Zion was more than excited about.
"When I get these hands. I will be proud of what hands I get," he told his mom. "And if it gets messed up, I don't care. Because I have my family."
According to Philly.com, Zion's mother, Pattie Ray, took him to Shriners Hospital for Children in Philadelphia two years ago, where she knew he could be fitted for prosthetic legs. There, she found out about the hand transplant program at CHOP.
She donated a kidney to her son when his own shut down at age 4 and he's been on anti-rejection medication ever since. Because of this, doctors knew that Zion made an even more suitable candidate for the procedure, which requires medication that can cause more issues, such as cancer, for other patients.
They put him on the hand transplant list this April, obtained by the Gift of Life, an organ and tissue transplant network. Then, just three months later, they got the call.
"That in and of itself is a remarkable story," Dr. L. Scott Levin says in the video.
Soon after, twelve surgeons came together, along with a team of anesthesiologists — four units in total — to perform the surgery on Zion. But it was no easy feat.
The doctors had to not only attach the limbs, but sew together the bones, nerves, veins, blood vessels and tendons as well. In total, the procedure took 11 hours.
And it was a success. As doctors pressed on the new hand, they slowly saw the blood fill into the once-lifeless appendage. But simply attaching hands wasn't the end of the road. They knew that they needed to make sure his hands functioned properly longterm.
After surgery, Zion received physical therapy to help him gain movement.
"For us, this is not just a technical exercise," said another one of Zion's doctors, Benjamin Chang, MD.
"It's really trying to restore a better level of lifetime function for these patients."
There's a long road ahead, but Zion's wants and needs have changed. No longer will he have to worry about not being able to climb the monkey bars, like before.
He's on to bigger and better things, kid things.