Zion Harvey wants to be a basketball player or a wrestler when he grows up.
Those dreams are within the realm of possibility due to a medical marvel — a surgery to transplant two hands onto the 8-year-old boy’s arms.
A team of surgeons and doctors at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) announced Tuesday that they had successfully completed the surgery to do exactly that earlier this month.
“Happy,” was how Zion, a Baltimore native, said he felt to an audience of doctors at CHOP as the results of the surgery were announced.
“It was weird at first but then it felt good.”
At this point, Zion’s wrists are still bandaged up and he’s under close observation by his doctors. He also won’t regain full feeling in his fingers for six to eight months while his nerves regrow at a rate of two millimeters a day, doctors said.
But he can flex his fingers and is developing control over them.
He has told doctors his immediate goals are to throw a football and go on monkey bars.
“He’s been super excited — like he just wants to jump up and scream,” said Zion’s cousin Aziya Savage, 10. “He feels like he’s complete now.”
The surgery was the first in the world of its nature, CHOP doctors said. A man received two hands transplanted in 2011 at CHOP, but never before had a child.
“People said, ‘What do you mean, you’re going to transplant onto a child? You’re crazy,'” recalled Dr. L. Scott Levin, director of hand transplantation at CHOP.
This type of procedure is a “vascularized composite allotransplant,” Levin said.
Zion’s hands and feet were amputated after a sepsis infection when he was just 2. Two years later, after undergoing dialysis, he received a kidney transplant from his mother. He has prosthetic feet, and had adapted to surviving without hands.
The previous transplant was the key to the surgery, said Dr. Benjamin Chang, co-director of CHOP hand transplants. Zion’s body had learned to accept a new organ, and he is already on immune-suppresant medicines for life for his kidney.
“We were looking for someone who already had a transplant,” Chang said. “Hands are important, but not as important as the heart.”
Earlier this month, his family was called around 3:30 p.m. to come to CHOP to receive hands donated through the Gift of Life program from an anonymous family whose child had died. By 4:30 a.m. the next morning, the hands were connected to his arms.
On the left and right sides, surgeons had to connect twobones, twoarteries, fourveins,22 tendons, three to fournerves and blood vessels between each arm and hand, Chang said.
Asked if he was afraid during the operation, Zion brought up his family, “They supported me.”
“If it didn’t go well, I would have my family to fall back on.”