How One Groundbreaking Transplant Gave New Hope to a Child Amputee
Prevention & Treatment In his first few years of life, Zion Harvey lost his feet, his hands and a kidney.
At the age of 2, a serious infection nearly killed the little boy and required the amputation of his extremities. Two years later, Zion needed a kidney transplant and received an organ from his mother.
Despite this difficult start, Zion thrived. He was fitted with prosthetic feet and managed well without hands, learning to feed himself, write and even play video games.
Heartache to history
In July 2015, Zion, now 8, became a pioneer: he was the first child in the world to receive a double hand transplant.
Organ transplants are usually reserved for life-threatening situations. After surgery, recipients must take immunosuppressant drugs for the rest of their lives, which can cause serious complications. But Zion was already taking these medications so his body wouldn’t reject his transplanted kidney.
Doctors at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) followed Zion for nearly two years to determine if he was a candidate for transplantation. His mother, Pattie Ray, consulted with surgeons about the risks to her son, but ultimately, she says it was up to Zion whether he went through with the procedure.
Zion had no doubts: he wanted the chance to have new hands.
Even after the decision was made, much uncertainty remained; the operation was dependent on finding a donor of the correct gender, size, skin color and blood type. In the meantime, a huge team of doctors and nurses rehearsed every step of the complex procedure multiple times.
Only three months after Zion was put on the organ waiting list, it happened: A generous donor’s family agreed to the hand donation. The surgical team at CHOP worked through the night, attaching bones with steel plates, connecting blood vessels and nerves with sutures thinner than a human hair, attaching muscles and tendons and sewing the skin together.
With the surgery successfully completed, Zion now faces a long road of challenging physical and occupational therapy to gain use of his new limbs. But this resilient child is ready. Before the transplant, he said: “When I get those hands, I will be proud of what hands I get.” And today he is.