After 18 months, the operation to carry out a double hand transplant on a child is successful, doctors declared on Tuesday. The child is now able to write, feed and dress himself, the doctors revealed. The report published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health reveals the first official medical update on 10-year-old Zion Harvey went through a surgery to get both hands transplanted in July 2015.
"Eighteen months after the surgery, the child is more independent and able to complete day-to-day activities," said Sandra Amaral, a doctor at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, where the operation took place.
"He continues to improve as he undergoes daily therapy to increase his hand function, and psychosocial support to help deal with the ongoing demands of his surgery."
Harvey got his hands and feet amputated at the age of two, after suffering from a sepsis infection. He also underwent a kidney transplant. He was already taking drugs to suppress any immune reaction to his kidney, which was a primary factor in his selection for the 10-plus hour hand transplant surgery.
Immunosuppressive drugs were administered to the child to prevent his body from rejecting the new transplant. These drugs have few risks associated with it including diabetes, cancer and infections. Doctors reviewed the successes and challenges Harvey and his family have faced. A large team of specialists was working hard to support them through the ups and downs.
Zion has shown eight rejections of the hands, which included serious episodes during the fourth and seventh month of transplant ,according to the report.
"All of these were reversed with immunosuppression drugs without impacting the function of the child's hands."
He continues to take four immunosuppressant drugs and a steroid.
"While functional outcomes are positive and the boy is benefitting from his transplant, this surgery has been very demanding for this child and his family," said Amaral.
Before the transplant, Harvey found it difficult to dress, feed and wash himself through adapted processes, using the residual limbs and equipment. His mother has hoped that one days he would be able to do the daily chores on his own. Harvey always wanted to climb monkey bars and hold a baseball bat.
A deceased child donated his hands in July 2015. Within few days of surgery, Zion was able to move his fingers using the ligaments from his remaining limbs.
"Regrowth of the nerves meant that he could move the transplanted hand muscles and feel touch within around six months, when he also became able to feed himself and grasp a pen to write," said the report.
After eight months of operation, Harvey was using scissors and drawing with crayons. Within a year, he would be able to hold a baseball bat with his both hands, as he dreamt. He also threw out the first pitch at Baltimore Orioles game last August.
He meets a psychologist regularly and both the psychologist and a social worker were a part of his speedy recovery. Scans have witnessed the progress as his brain is now adapting to the new hands, developing pathways to control the movements and feel the sensations.
Researchers also cautioned that more study is needed before hand transplant becomes a widely accepted procedure.
"The world's first double hand transplant in a child has been successful under carefully considered circumstances," said the report.
On the other hand, world’s first hand transplant in adult was carried out in 1998.
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