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8-year-old boy becomes first child to receive double hand transplant

An 8-year-old has become the first child in the world to receive a bilateral hand transplant. The procedure was carried out by surgeons based at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, assisted by colleagues from Penn Medicine.

“This surgery was the result of years of training, followed by months of planning and preparation by a remarkable team,” remarks Dr. Scott Levin, director of the Hand Transplantation Program at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

In 2011, the Penn team conducted their first bilateral hand transplant on an adult, and according to Dr. Levin, this experience gave the surgeons a foundation from which to plan to perform such a complex procedure on a child.

The patient receiving the transplantation was 8-year-old Zion Harvey, a young boy who had received a kidney transplant and had both his hands and feet amputated several years previously after suffering a serious infection.

Initially, Zion was seen at Shriners Hospitals for Children in Philadelphia, a facility known for its pediatric orthopedic care. However, he was eventually identified as a patient who might be suitable for the first ever pediatric hand transplant.

For the operation, four teams of surgeons – two for the donor hands and two for the recipient’s limbs – worked to attach the hands to the patient’s forearms, first connecting the bones before moving onto the blood vessels, muscles, tendons, nerves and then skin.

Post-surgery, Zion continues to receive his immunosuppressant medication while being cared for by both a kidney transplant team and his hand transplant surgical team. After a week in the pediatric intensive care unit, he eventually moved to an inpatient rehabilitation unit where he continues to receive frequent and rigorous hand therapy.