BALTIMORE, Maryland– Zion Harvey sometimes puts on a baseball glove or swings a bat — just like many 9-year-olds.
But a little more than a year ago, he had no hands. Then the Baltimore youngster, who lost both hands and feet to a bacterial infection, became the first child to receive a double hand transplant in the US.
A year later, he’s doing well and says he’s ready to play competitive sports.
“Nothing really changed because everybody I know is still the same. All I can do now is grip for baseball. I can grip onto a bat better. I can wear a baseball glove now,” Zion said Tuesday at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, according to CNN affiliate WBAL.
Just 13 months after his surgery, Zion can write, make his own lunch and dress himself.
And his hands are growing with him, CNN affiliate WMAR reported.
Smiling through hardship
At 2, Zion suffered a life-threatening sepsis infection, resulting in the failure of multiple organs and leading to the amputation of his hands and feet.
At age 4, after two years of dialysis, he received a kidney from his mother, Pattie Ray. Despite an early lifetime of hardship, Zion figured out not only how to get by, but how to do it with the widest of grins across his face.
Not even the prospect of a failed procedure daunted Zion. In the months before his operation — Philadelphia’s Shriners Hospitals for Children and The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia evaluated him for 18 months before he was deemed a candidate for the surgery. He was filmed bopping around on prosthetic legs without a hint of fear.
The transplant surgery required 40 surgeons, nurses and anesthesiologists, and it took more than 10 hours.
Doctor: ‘Beyond our expectations’
His occupational therapy is ongoing. For the past year he’s has gone five days a week, for three hours.
Doctors said Zion was a champion through the process. It started with the boy learning wiggling his new thumb. It required intense concentration, Children’s Hospital said in a statement.
One doctor said his brain had to be re-taught how to “fire those muscles again.”
“He and his family have managed this so well, beyond our expectations,” said Dr. Benjamin Chang, co-director of the hand transplantation program at the hospital.
Zion said his newest challenge is to persuade his mother to let him play football. She says no, but lovingly lauds her son’s spirit.
“The sky’s the limit. He’s just beginning,” she told WBAL. “Look what he has now, a year out, so imagine five years from now. I can see anything for this kid. He’s amazing.”
He son used the same word to describe his new abilities.
“I can bend them. I can eat,” Zion told CNN affiliate KYW. “I think it’s amazing. I don’t know what they (the doctors) think, but I think it’s amazing.”
Zion told TODAY he loves being able to hug his mom. “Just being able to wrap them around my mom.”