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8-Year-Old Celebrates First Double Hand Transplant in History

An eight-year-old boy is making headlines after being the first child to receive a double hand and forearm transplant.

At two years old, a serious infection attacked Zion Harvey's body. The infection led to the loss of his hands and feet, and later he had to have a kidney transplant.

Harvey, who lives near Baltimore, was then given prosthetic legs and became quite an active child, walking, running and jumping on his own. Despite the many challenges over the past six years, Harvey had adapted well to life without hands—learning to eat, write and play video games. Harvey had one fantasy left, to play on the monkey bars.

In July, Harvey underwent the ground-breaking, 10-hour surgery. The success of a previous adult hand transplant surgery in 2011 became the benchmark for this medical effort.

Harvey's surgery took a combined 40-member team of nurses, doctors and surgeons led by Dr. L. Scott Levin, chairman of the department of orthopedic surgery at Penn Medicine and director of the hand transplantation program at Children's Hospital.

During the operation, the surgical team was divided into four groups, two were focused on the donor hands and two were focused on the recipient hands. Surgeons connected the bone, blood vessels, nerves, muscles, tendons and skin of the donor hands and forearm to Harvey's arm.

The bones in both of Harvey's arms were connected to the donor hands and forearms with steel plates and screws. The arteries and veins of the donor hand and forearm were then connected to Harvey's. As the blood began to flow through the newly connected blood vessels, each muscle and tendon was repaired. Finally, they reattached disconnected nerves and completed the surgery.

In a press conference on Tuesday, Harvey thanked the Penn Medicine and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), who performed the operation. "Thank you for helping me through this bumpy road," he said.

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