Remember the Maryland boy who in 2015 became the first child in the world to receive a double hand transplant? Well, he just threw out the first pitch at an Orioles game.
Zion Harvey, who lost both hands and feet to a severe infection as a baby, was 8-years-old last summer when a surgical team of 40 at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia worked ten hours connecting bone, blood vessels, nerves, muscles, tendons and skin to give him two new hands.
Harvey has been working ever since to regain hand function through rigorous therapy sessions. On Tuesday, he threw out the ceremonial first pitch for his hometown Orioles. “Never give up on your dreams, it will come true,” Harvey told WJZ last year.
Outfielder Adam Jones had the honor of catching Harvey’s ball. The O’s went on to win their game against the Texas Rangers 5-1.
An 8-year-old Baltimore boy who is being dubbed a medical phenomenon is looking forward to finally being able to play with his little sister and, hopefully, the new puppy he asked for.
And while Zion Harvey’s wishes seem simple enough, picking up his 2-year-old sister or eating a slice of pizza were both things he had difficulty doing after losing his feet and hands to sepsis as a toddler. But as the youngest patient to receive a double-hand transplant last month, the possibilities are endless.
While debuting his new digits at a Tuesday news conference, the little boy with wisdom beyond his years asked his family to stand so that he could thank them for helping him through his struggles.
“I want to say to you guys, thank you for helping me through this bumpy road,” he said.
The surgery, one of a few in a “small, but growing, transplant field, which has moved beyond internal organs,” the Baltimore Sun writes, was the first pediatric double hand transplant performed at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia.
More than 100 people worldwide have received upper-extremity transplants since the first was performed in France in 1998, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
“This is a monumental step,” said Scott Levin, chairman of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Penn Medicine and director of the Hand Transplantation Program at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “I hope personally we can help many more patients like Zion in the future.”
Zion, who was already taking drugs to prevent his body from rejecting a kidney transplant he received at 4-years-old, was considered a good candidate for the hands. Doctors were less concerned that Zion would have a negative response to the drugs, since he had been exposed to them for a while.
Only about 15 children a year are eligible to donate hands, so doctors weren’t sure when one would become available. They had to find hands that were the right color and size for Zion. While waiting for a match, the surgery team practiced the procedure on cadavers. They developed a step-by step playbook for the day of surgery. Then the call came: Hands were available. Ray was both nervous and excited. Zion was preoccupied with plans for a sleepover he would now have to miss, and it wasn’t until he arrived at the hospital that reality hit.
“Mom, I think I am nervous now,” he recalls sayingas he lay in a hospital bed that engulfed his small body.
“There is no need to be nervous,” Zion’s mother, Pattie Ray, responded. “This is a good thing.”
The painstaking surgery took about 10-hours to complete. Two days later, when Zion finally took a look at his new hands, he was beyond excited. And along with using his hands to do everyday activities, Zion is looking forward to finally being able to play football.
His mother, who called the sport “dangerous,” is probably less excited about throwing around a football, but says she just wants to see her child do well.