What's next for Zion Harvey, 8, double-hand transplant patient

Posted on: Monday, 16 November 2015 at 8:55:49 PM

 

The future looks bright for Zion Harvey, the 8-year-old boy who recently underwent double-hand transplant surgery, but it will require constant vigilance, according to lead surgeon Dr. L. Scott Levin.

 

"He will be a patient life-long," Levin told USA TODAY Network in a phone interview.

 

"When you do this kind of transplant as a surgeon, your patients become members of your family and I say that with enthusiasm," he said.

 

Zion's story and his captivating personality charmed the public when The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) announced the successful transplant Tuesday in a video and statement.

 

Levin and a team of surgeons, nurses and anesthesiologists performed the 11-hour surgery earlier this month. The hospital did not release the exact surgery date in order to protect the privacy of the donor.

 

Zion lost his hands and feet when he was as a toddler after he contracted a life-threatening infection and had to have them amputated. Zion's family declined to be interviewed at this time, but Levin weighed in on Zion's progress.

 

"He’s exceeding all of our expectations," Levin said.

Zion started therapy to gain use of the new hands roughly a week after his operation and has improved every day, according to Levin. Levin said Zion is a determined patient.

"He wants a puppy and he wants to be able to pick up his sister," he said. At this time it's too early to say how well Zion will adapt. He will be in intense hand therapy for many months and it could take up to two years before he meets full motion potential, according to Levin.

Hand transplants, just like any transplanted organ, run the risk of being rejected by the body so Zion will be monitored closely for that for the rest of his life.

He will remain on immune-suppressing drugs to help reduce the risk of rejection. Zion was already on the medication before the hand transplants because of a prior kidney transplant. The medicine causes a higher risk of infection and some people to develop cancer, but Levin said that is the case for everyone who has this kind of surgery.

"He’s no different than the thousands of organ transplants that require medication," he said. "We monitor him very carefully for the side effects."

In the meantime, Zion's story continues to inspire. Levin said many people have reached out to CHOP already to inquire about future similar surgeries.

"There are other children we are preparing to evaluate and put on a waiting list," he said. "Our dreams to help children like Zion are now realities."

Contributing: The Associated Press

 

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