This 8-year-old boy received the first double-hand transplant


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.

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Zion Harvey, 8, of Baltimore, shows his new hands and smiles at a news conference at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia on Tuesday, July 28, 2015. Zion, who lost his hands and feet to a bacterial disease as a two-year-old, had a double hand transplant at CHOP in early July 2015, the first pediatric double hand transplant. In the background is his step-father Kevon Gant. (Clem Murray/Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 14: 10-year-old Zion Harvey, the first child to undergo a bilateral hand transplant, throws out the ceremonial first pitch before the game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks at Dodger Stadium on April 14, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 02: Zion Harvey throws out the first pitch before the game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Texas Rangers at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on August 2, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 14: 10-year-old Zion Harvey, the first child to undergo a bilateral hand transplant, throws out the ceremonial first pitch before the game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks at Dodger Stadium on April 14, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
Zion Harvey, 8, of Baltimore, waves to the audience with his new right hand as his mother, Pattie Ray, leads him onstage to the at a news conference at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia on Tuesday, July 28, 2015. Zion, who lost his hands and feet to a bacterial disease as a two-year-old, had a double hand transplant at CHOP in early July 2015, the first pediatric double hand transplant. In the background is his step-father Kevon Gant. (Clem Murray/Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS via Getty Images)
Dr. Benjamin Chang, one of the coordinating surgeons on the team who transplanted two new hands onto Zion Harvey, 8, explains the operation to the audience at a news conference at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia on Tuesday, July 28, 2015. Zion lost his hands and feet to a bacterial disease when he was 2, but had a double hand transplant at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia in early July 2015, the first pediatric double hand transplant. (Clem Murray/Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS via Getty Images)
Zion Harvey, 8, right, concentrates as he tries to bend the fingers on his new right hand under direction of co-lead surgeon L. Scott Levin, as the other co-lead surgeon Scott Kozin talks to the audience at a news conference at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia on Tuesday, July 28, 2015. Zion, who lost his hands and feet to a bacterial disease when he was 2, had a double hand transplant at CHOP in early July 2015, the first pediatric double hand transplant. (Clem Murray/Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS via Getty Images)
Nine-year-old Zion Harvey of Philadelphia, who has two transplanted hands, throws out the ceremonial first pitch to Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones before a game against the Texas Rangers at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2016. The Orioles won, 5-1. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun/TNS via Getty Images)
Zion Harvey, 8, of Owings Mills, Md., at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), where he recently underwent a bilateral hand transplant. CHOP says this is the first time this procedure has been done on a child. With Zion is his mother, Pattie Ray, second from left, and occupational therapists Kelly Ferry, left, and Todd Levy, right. Ferry is adjusting a new splint for his right hand. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun/TNS via Getty Images)
Zion Harvey, 8, of Owings Mills, Md., at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), where he recently underwent a bilateral hand transplant, with his mother, Pattie Ray. CHOP says this is the first time this procedure has been done on a child. Ray, 26, has been with him during his entire hospital stay. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun/TNS via Getty Images)
Zion Harvey, 8, of Owings Mills, Md., at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), where he recently underwent a bilateral hand transplant. CHOP says this is the first time this procedure has been done on a child. His mother, Pattie Ray, 26, has been with him during his entire hospital stay, which will continue into August. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun/TNS via Getty Images)
Todd Levy, occupational therapist at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, works with Zion Harvey, 8, of Owings Mills, Md., (CHOP), where he recently underwent a bilateral hand transplant. Levy is checking the passive range of motion of Kion's left hand. CHOP says this is the first time this procedure has been done on a child. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun/TNS via Getty Images)
Zion Harvey, 8, of Owings Mills, Md., at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), who recently underwent a bilateral hand transplant, chats with occupation therapist Todd Levy, center. Levy and another occupational therapist, Kelly Ferry, right, work with him at least three times a day, fabricating new splints and checking his range of hand motion. CHOP says this is the first time this procedure has been done on a child. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun/TNS via Getty Images)
Zion Harvey, 8, of Owings Mills, Md., resting at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), where he recently underwent a bilateral hand transplant. CHOP says this is the first time this procedure has been done on a child. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun/TNS via Getty Images)
Todd Levy, occupational therapist at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, works with Zion Harvey, 8, of Owings Mills, Md., where he recently underwent a bilateral hand transplant. Levy is checking the passive range of motion of Zion's left hand. CHOP says this is the first time this procedure has been done on a child. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun/TNS via Getty Images)
Pattie Ray holds a book so her son, Zion Harvey, 8, can read it while in his hospital bed on July 27, 2015, at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Zion had a double hand transplant in early July 2015, the first pediatric double hand transplant ever performed. The Baltimore boy lost his hands and feet to a bacterial disease when he was as a two-year-old. (Clem Murray/Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS via Getty Images)
Zion Harvey, 8, of Baltimore, shows off his new hands after transplant surgery at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia on July 27, 2015. Zion lost his hands and feet to a bacterial disease when he was 2, but had a double hand transplant in Philadelphia in early July 2015, the first pediatric double hand transplant. (Clem Murray/Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS via Getty Images)
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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.

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