A boy who lost both his hands now has two new ones.
When Zion Harvey was 2 years old, he fell victim to sepsis (a potentially deadly side effect of an infection) and needed both of his hands amputated. Now, 18 months after a double-hand transplant, Zion can write and go to the bathroom, feed and dress himself, according to a new paper published Tuesday in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.
Doctors at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia performed the 10-hour-and-40-minute surgery – "the first bilateral hand and forearm transplantation in a child" – in July 2015. Zion suffered a series of rejection episodes during the first year, though with treatment they were reversed. Following rehabilitation like occupational therapy and counseling, Zion was able to recover, Newsweek reports.
There's still more research to be done in this field going forward, particularly when it comes to long-term effects. Also, Zion was already on immunosuppressive drugs previously because he received a kidney transplant from his mother.
More on Zion Harvey:
The Lancet case study concluded "Hand transplantation in a child can be surgically, medically, and functionally successful under carefully considered circumstances," but noted there's still a need for long-term data on the boy's functional, neurological and psychological recovery and the potential late effect of immunosuppression before adopting broader use of these kinds of transplants.
Newsweek reports the first successful hand transplant occurred in 1998, though people remain cautious about the procedure. For most children who receive amputations, prosthetics are the answer – but as Newsweek notes, some recipients, both young and old, find the prostheses unwieldy or embarrassing and stop using them.
"In children, concerns underlying the risk–benefit balance of hand transplantation are more nuanced than in adults," according to researchers. "Even with continually improving upper limb prosthetic technology, prosthetic abandonment rates remain as high as 45% and are higher in children than in adults, especially when prosthetics are fitted after 2 years of age."
Daily therapy for Harvey will continue, along with psychological support and pharmacist and psychologist interventions when necessary. Researchers will also perform skin biopsies and neuroimaging, among other follow-up research if future candidates require such information, for risk-benefit purposes.