zion harvey hand transplants
© The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia / YouTube
Zion Harvey suffered a cataclysmic infection when he was just two years old, forcing doctors to amputate both his hands and feet to save his life. Now aged ten, Harvey is the world's youngest successful double hand transplant recipient.

Harvey suffered kidney failure soon after the amputations and underwent two years of dialysis before his mother Pattie Ray donated her kidney. With the unyielding support of his family and medical staff, Harvey was able to live his life while patiently waiting for a suitable match.

In July 2015, Harvey finally received donor hands from a deceased child and the surgical team could embark on the landmark surgery. The first successful hand transplant on an adult was completed in 1998 but there were no recorded successes on child patients.
"Eighteen months after the surgery, the child is more independent and able to complete day-to-day activities," said Sandra Amaral, a doctor at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, where the operation took place, as cited by the AFP.

"He continues to improve as he undergoes daily therapy to increase his hand function, and psychosocial support to help deal with the ongoing demands of his surgery," Amaral added.
In July 2015, Harvey underwent an almost 11-hour operation involving four teams of surgeons, each working simultaneously on both the donor and the recipient limbs, to gift him a new set of hands.

Additional surgical work was required on the ulnar artery soon after the initial bilateral hand and forearm transplantation was complete, according to a report published in The Lancet.

Biopsies were carried out on a weekly basis for the first three months following the operation and then gradually dialled back once the risk of rejection waned. However, there were multiple 'rejection episodes' throughout the first year but thanks to the close monitoring each instance was reversed by medical staff at the hospital.
"All of these were reversed with immunosuppression drugs without impacting the function of the child's hands," Amaral added.
In terms of his recovery since the transplant, sensitivity to light touches was documented six months after the surgery, nerve distribution was noted between seven and 10 months following the operation and by 18 months the child had exceeded his previous capabilities prior to the surgery.
"Regrowth of the nerves meant that he could move the transplanted hand muscles and feel touch within around six months, when he also became able to feed himself and grasp a pen to write," said the Lancet report.
He is now able to write, feed and dress himself and go to the toilet more independently and efficiently than he could before.

Harvey remains on four immunosuppressive medications for the time being but the long-term effects of such drugs on his development will be closely monitored as he grows. Immunosuppressive drugs carry risks, including diabetes, cancer and infections.
"His brain is communicating with his hands. His brain says for his hands to move and they move. And that in and of itself is remarkable," said lead surgeon Dr Scott Levin about Harvey's recovery last year, as cited by the BBC.