An 8-year-old Maryland boy took a big step closer to his dream of throwing a football earlier this month when he became the first child to receive a double hand transplant.
“I wanna say thank you guys for helping me down this bumpy road,” Zion Harvey said at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.
Zion has spent most of his life without hands and feet. When he was 2 years old, doctors amputated his extremities after an infection caused him to develop gangrene.
His mother, Pattie Ray, said seeing Zion’s new hands “felt like he was being reborn,” according to NBC News.
“I see my son in the light I haven’t seen him in five years,” she said. “It was like having a newborn. It was a very joyous moment for me. I was happy for him.”
A team of 40 doctors, nurses and staff members worked together for approximately 10 hours during the operation at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Doctors felt Zion was a unique candidate for the procedure because he was already taking immunosuppressant drugs to prevent rejection of an earlier kidney transplant.
The hospital explained the procedure in a statement:
During the surgery, the hands and forearms from the donor were attached by connecting bone, blood vessels, nerves, muscles, tendons and skin. The surgical team was divided into four, simultaneous operating teams, two focused on the donor limbs, and two focused on the recipient. First, the forearm bones, the radius and ulna, were connected with steel plates and screws. Next, microvascular surgical techniques were used to connect the arteries and veins. Once blood flow was established through the re-connected blood vessels, surgeons individually repaired and rejoined each muscle and tendon. Surgeons then reattached nerves and then closed the surgical sites.
Even before the operation could happen, doctors faced significant challenges.
“I think the difficulty is finding a family that has the courage to relinquish the arms of a child who just died, and give hope and life and quality of life to a child who’s still living,” said Scott Levin, the hospital’s transplant program director.
Zion says he hopes to one day play guitar, swing on the monkey bars and maybe become a doctor. He is especially excited to hold his little sister.
“I just want to say this, never give up on your dreams. It will come true,” Zion said, according to CBS News.
Zion still has a long road of rehabilitation ahead. He needs to develop new coordination skills and wait for nerve regeneration to restore feeling, a process that can take two years, The Philadelphia Inquirer says.
He has an incredible outlook, though.
“I’m the same person who I still used to be, but with some cool new hands,” he said.