An 8-year-old boy made his public debut Tuesday as the youngest patient to receive a double-hand transplant, his surgeons said.
Zion Harvey, who lost his hands and feet after contracting sepsis as a toddler, was all smiles during his introduction to the media at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, his new hands visible from outside heavily bandaged forearms.
"I want to say to you guys, thank you for helping me through this bumpy road," a visibly cheery Zion told family and hospital staff at the news conference.
The complicated procedure was carried out earlier this month, but was not disclosed publicly until Tuesday. A 40-member team of physicians, nurses, and surgeons participated in the 10-hour operation.
Zion, who received prosthetics for his feet and is able to walk, run, and jump, will now spend a few weeks in rehab before heading home near Baltimore, according to the hospital.
Several factors lined up to make the record-setting surgery possible.
Zion was considered an ideal transplant patient because he was already taking anti-rejection drugs for a new kidney after losing one of his own, also as a result of his severe sepsis — a severe body response to an infection, often bacterial.
Then a suitable donor was identified through the nonprofit Gift of Life Donor.
“As with all types of transplant, surgeries such as this one could not take place without the generosity of a donor and a donor family," Richard Hasz, vice president of Clinical Services for Gift of Life, said in a statement. "We thank them for their selflessness and for their gift that made this surgery possible.”
During the operation, medical staff painstakingly connected blood vessels, nerves, muscles, tendons, and skin after using steel plates to attach the two bone segments.
“This surgery was the result of years of training, followed by months of planning and preparation by a remarkable team,” Dr. L. Scott Levin, who leads the hand transplant program, said in a statement.
According to the hospital, Zion had already adapted to life without hands, learning to eat, write, play video games, and "perform most of the activities other kids his age can do." But now, doctors said, Zion should be able to achieve his dream of playing football.
At the news conference Tuesday, Zion's mother, Pattie Ray, recalled making the decision to go ahead with the complex procedure.
"It was no more of a risk than a kidney transplant," she said, according to the Associated Press. "So I felt like I was willing to take that risk for him, if he wanted it — to be able to play monkey bars and football."
In an NBC News segment prior to the surgery, Zion held up his forearms while telling the reporter, "When I get those hands, I would be proud of what hands I get."
Describing what it felt like to wake up with those new hands, Zion told reporters Tuesday it was "weird at first, but then good."
Jason Wells is a news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Jason Wells at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.