Zion Harvey became the youngest person in the world to successfully undergo a bilateral hand transplant in 2015. Two years later, the boy continues to show how well he has adapted to his new hands.
At the time of the operation, Zion was eight years old. He garnered global attention for his upbeat outlook and his wisdom that seemed beyond his years. A video shot and shared by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia documented Zions life before the surgery, and the entire high-risk process of gaining two new hands, The Washington Post reports.
In a new article, Zion is reported to be doing well, adjusting to his hands. It discusses the first 18 months of the boy’s progress, stating that he can now write, feed and dress himself without help.
The operation took over 10 hours, and at the end of it, Zion was able to move his finger through ligaments from his limbs. With the help of “extensive rehabilitation,” Zion continued to move forward, and by six months, could move the muscles in his hands and gained a sense of touch. By eight months, he could hold scissors and crayons.
Within a year, Zion was able to achieve what he said was one of his ultimate goals: to be able to grip and swing a baseball bat with both hands.
Sandra Amaral, medical director of the hand transplant program at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said, “He was able to grip a baseball bat, which was something he wanted to do, by about a year, but now he can do it more powerfully with more coordinated motion between the right and the left hand.”
It hasn’t been easy, however. Zion’s body has tried to reject the new hands eight times, with “serious episodes” happening four and seven months after the operation. He continues to take four kinds of immunosuppression medications.
Doctors continue to marvel a Zion’s physical progress, and praised his emotional maturity. L. Scott Levin and Benjamin Chang headed the transplant team. Levin said in a 2016 video, “I think from an emotional standpoint, he remains a remarkable young man because here, we’ve had weeks of hospitalization, a daily request for him to interact, to do therapy, to undergo testing, to interface, and again, there’s never been one iota of resistance.”
Zion continues to be an exuberant presence, insisting that he is “still a kid” and that his friends continue to treat him the same way. The difference now is that he has his independence.
The article appeared in the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.