Eight year old Zion Harvey underwent 10 hours 40 minutes of surgery performed by four teams of doctors to receive two new hands. The report of this first successful transplant leading to a fully functioning set of hands for the boy was published yesterday in the journal Lancet Child and Adolescent Health. It has been nearly two years since the successful operation. Zion in 10 years old now and is well.
Image Credit: Screen shot from The Lancet video
Zion from Baltimore, Maryland, sets a precedence from which many other children could benefit say the team of doctors who declared the operation a success after eighteen months of monitoring and therapy. Zion lost both his hands and feet at the age of two when he developed a serious blood infection – sepsis. His hands and feet had to be amputated at that age. Since then he was using his residual limbs along with prosthetics or special equipment to perform his daily tasks and to move around. Now with two new hands he is back eating, washing and dressing himself on his own.
The surgical team wrote in the journal that Zion has exceeded the previous abilities that he had at 18 months after the surgery. He can not only eat, wash, toilet and dress himself, but also write with his new hands. He is more independent than before writes the team from the Children’s hospital of Philadelphia. The surgery held in July 2015 was followed by intensive rehabilitation and physical therapy. The new hands from another person tends to cause the immune reaction to flare up in the recipient as it does not identify the new tissues as its own and tends to attack them. This is called rejection and is common with all organ transplants. For this the recipient needs to take medications that suppress his or her immune reactions for the rest of their lives. Zion too faced eight episodes of rejection of which two that occurred at fourth and seventh month were serious and he had to be treated intensively with immunosuppressant drugs. However he made complete recovery from those write the researchers. At present he is on four different immunosuppressant drugs to help prevent such rejections.
Zion calls his two new hands parts of his life that were missing. They have completed him he adds beaming. Within eight months of his transplant he was able to use his hands for fine movements including use of scissors or crayons to write and colour. One year after his transplant he could even swing a baseball bat with both his hands. For this success Zion has had intense physical and occupational therapy – something he never shied away from, add his surgeons and team of care givers. Dr Scott Levin, team leader for Zion’s surgery praised the little boy’s grit and determination.
Lorna Marson, the president of the British Transplantation Society said that surgeries and case reports such as these are encouraging and they show how much difference transplantation can make not only functionally to a person but also in terms of “quality of life”. The self-esteem and the quality of daily living improves significantly with these successful attempts at transplantation she added. She called this a “ground breaking” transplants and called the results of this report “heartening” saying that transplantation is an evolving science where more developments are made steadily. Hand or arm transplants have been done in around a 100 persons worldwide till date. The first case was performed in 1998 and in 2000 the first both hands transplant was performed successfully. It was in May 2000 that an infant girl received hand and arm transplant from her twin sister who died at birth. The little recipient was born with a severe deformity and benefited from the transplant.