First Successful Bi-Lateral Hand Transplant Surgery on Child

Adrian RubinExciting news has emerged from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania. Recently surgeons from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia teamed up with colleagues from Penn Medicine in the hopes of achieving the world’s first successful bilateral hand transplant on a child. This medical team performed the task of transplanting both donor hands and forearms onto eight year old Zion Harvey.

The surgical team was led by Dr. Scott Levin, MD, FACS who is also the Chairman of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Penn Medicine and the Director of the Hand Transplantation Program at The Children’s Hospital of Philadeliphia. Dr. Levin is also a professor of surgery  at the Perelman School of Medicine at Penn. The operation required a team of 40 professionals who spanned a wide cross-section of specialties and disciplines. The operation itself lasted for 10 hours.

According to Dr. Scott Levin, “This surgery was the result of years of training, followed by months of planning and preparation by a remarkable team..” and that “The success of Penn’s first bilateral hand transplant on an adult, performed in 2011, gave us a foundation to adapt the intricate techniques and coordinated plans required to perform this type of complex procedure on a child. CHOP is one of the few places in the world that offer the capabilities necessary to push the limits of medicine to give a child a drastically improved quality of life.”

The young patient Zion Harvey, who suffered from a serious infection as a young child that required the amputation of his hands feet and a kidney, was initially referred to Shriners Hospitals for Children owing to their well-earned reputation for expert pediatric orthopaedic care. From that referral, the team at Shriners orchestrated a strategic alliance with CHOP and their team. The collaboration between these established institutions required a lot of logistical coordination, but in the end it meant that the people assembled to perform the task were a veritable dream team of professionals, each executing their individual tasks and more team oriented roles with precision and expertise.

Prior to the operation, they needed to identify an appropriate donor through the Gift of Life Donor Program. Subsequent to locating the donor, the patient had to undergo numerous evaluations and medical screenings owing to the complexity of a double-hand transplant. The medical team needed to ensure that Zion was the right candidate for the surgery.

After this lengthy process, the operation was eventually set to commence. During the actual procedure, the donor forearms and hands were connected to the patient through bone, nerves, skin, tendons and muscles. The team was divided into four sub groups to allow for simultaneous operating teams. The operation was successful and Zion is currently working on rigorous physical therapy for his hands in order to improve the function of his new hands.