Surgeons have successfully performed the first ever bilateral hand transplant on a child.
In early July, surgeons at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia performed the complex surgery to attach two donor hands to Zion Harvey, an eight-year-old boy whose hands and feet were amputated several years ago after he caught a severe and unknown infection.
“I made the decision from a medical standpoint, but ultimately, to have the surgery was Zion’s decision,” says Zion’s mother Pattie Ray in an interview with TIME. “He wanted to do what other children can do without so much trouble.”
Since Zion had already undergone a kidney transplant, he was taking anti-rejection medication which increased his potential as a viable candidate for a pediatric hand transplant. The surgery was performed this month when there was a donor match (the precise date of the surgery is withheld to protect donors). Zion also has prosthetic feet.
As depicted in the video above, the medical team performing the surgery was split into four teams, with two focusing on the donor limbs and two focusing on Zion. The surgeons connected bones with steel plates and screws and then connected the arteries and veins. When the team had successful blood flow, they connected the muscles, tendons and nerves.
“I was nervous and anxious during his surgery,” says Ray. “When they told me the surgery was successful I breathed a big sigh of relief. I could breathe again.”
Zion continues to undergo hand therapy multiple times a day, something he became accustomed to after his prior surgeries. “He’s improving every day,” says Ray. “Yesterday he held some pizza and put it in his mouth.”
Doctors say that after his rehabilitation, Zion will be able to throw a football among other daily activities that were previously more difficult.
Ray says that Zion wants to have a party to show off his new hands when he’s released from the hospital. “He hopes to inspire others and open doors,” she says.