One year later, boy who received first-ever hand transplant in Philly thrives

A year ago, he had no hands. But thanks to doctors in Philadelphia, a nine-year-old boy threw out the first pitch at a Baltimore Orioles game, and is continuing to learn how to use his hands received at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphiaone year ago.

Zion Harvey became the first child to receive a hand transplant in a historic operation at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia(CHOP) last summer. Doctors say he is thriving.

“Today, nine-year-old Zion Harvey can throw a baseball over home plate. He can write in his journal, prepare himself lunch and manage zippers on his clothes,” Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia(CHOP) announced on Wednesday in an update on Zion’s progress.

Zion, of Baltimore, came to Philadelphia as an eight-year-old double amputee. He lost both hands and feet due to an early-life severe sepsis infection that nearly took his life. He has prosthetic feet and had previously received a kidney transplant from his mother.

Ironically, the fact that his body had already successfully accepted an organ transplant made him the ideal candidate for the double hand transplant surgery, CHOP’s team of surgeons said. A similar operation was successfully performed on an adult male in 2011, but Zion was the first child to ever undergo this surgery, technically known as a “vascularized composite allotransplant.”

Still, learning to use the new hands isn’t easy. Over the past year, Zion has spent up to eight hours a day in rehabilitation at a medical facility near his Baltimore home. Since he was missing his hands for six key years of childhood, Zion’s brain must “relearn how to communicate” with the hands, CHOP said.

“He’s gaining independence and that is the whole reason why we do this,”said Dr. L. Scott Levin, director of hand transplantation at CHOP, in a statement.

He is now capable of using his new hands to perform basic tasks, such as getting dressed, swinging a bat or throwing a football, and picking up forks, pencils, and a piece of pizza.

“After the transplant healed, it was very important for Zion to be in therapy full-time,” said surgeon Benjamin Chang, MD, co-director of CHOP hand transplants, in a statement. “This is when we can make the most progress in terms of getting his function to come back, helping the tendons to glide, the muscles to grow stronger, actually re-teaching his brain how to fire those muscles again, and then teaching him how to do things like writing.”

While doctors expect to be tracking Zion’s progress throughout his life, for now the boy said he is pleased to have hands again.

“I’m still the same kid everybody knew without hands,” Zion said in a statement from CHOP. “But I can do everything now. I can do the same things even better.”

See below for a video of Zion, one year later.

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