Eight-year-old Zion Harvey of Owings Mill, Md., lost his hands and feet to a dangerous infection when he was just 2 years old. Now Zion is the youngest person to receive a dual hand transplant, and while there are several hurdles to cross before Zion gets the all-clear, doctors are hopeful that this will be a lifelong solution.
"We wanted to really make sure that this was going to work for our patient and work for a lifetime, not just a year," Dr. Benjamin Chang, co-director of the Hand Transplantation Program at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia told ABC News. Zion, who used prosthetics for most of his young life, underwent the 11-hour surgery in June.
Doctors' biggest concern is that Zion is literally in uncharted and undocumented territory. The hope is that his nerves will connect with his new hands, giving him full use of the new appendages, and that the new hands will grow with his body. But doctors have only performed the surgery sparingly, and only on adults.
"We just don't know," Chang told ABC News. "The adults that have had transplants have had at least one rejection episode after the transplant."
Dr. W.P. Andrew Lee, chairman of the Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Johns Hopkins University, told the news station that because the procedure is still fairly new, everyone would have to wait and see how Zion responds.
"We think it can go indefinitely, but I have to tell you, the longest hand transplant was performed just 16 years ago," said Lee. "That's the track record."
Until Zion's nerves connect to his new hands, he has no feeling in the transplanted appendages, so the goals for Zion are simply to be able to make a fist and open his hand, according to ABC News.
"We're waiting for him to regain the ability to feel," explained Chang. "The nerves have to grow back from his own native nerves into the transplanted hands. … It will grow about an inch a month. It’s going to be six months before he gains feeling in the hands."
The hospital showed footage of Zion moving his new hands in physical therapy, but Zion's dreams are already well beyond that, with Chang telling the news station that Zion's goal "is to climb the monkey bars."
Before his surgery, an optimistic Zion had a very grounded message.
"When I get these hands, I will be proud of the hands I get," Zion said in a video viewed by the news station. "If it gets messed up, I don't care because I have my family."
Read more at ABC News.