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Boy with first double hand transplant can swing a bat

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 7/19/2017 Ashley May
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Zion Harvey, the world's first child to undergo a successful double hand transplant, is now swinging a baseball bat.

Harvey's medical team recently published notes about his progress 18 months after his nearly 11-hour bilateral surgery. 

"The child had exceeded his previous adapted abilities," the report notes. "He is able to write and feed, toilet, and dress himself."

And, at 10-years-old, he's gripping and swinging a baseball bat, playing video games and manipulating puppets in occupational therapy several times a week.

In April, he played catch with Yasiel Puig before a Dodger's game.

The Baltimore boy is also working on a personal goal: climbing monkey bars. 

Sandra Amaral, one of Zion's physicians at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, told USA TODAY Zion could actually climb monkey bars now, but would need someone under him in case he falls. 

Another milestone: Amaral said Zion recently rowed a canoe, grasping both oars at a children's camp. 

Zion's case proves hand transplantation in children can be successful, but Amaral said those looking into the option should know achieving this level of functioning takes time and dedication. 

"We’ve learned from Zion’s case, it’s a lot of demand in terms of therapy long-term," she said. 

This undated handout photo courtesy of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia shows Zion Harvey.The first child in the world to undergo a double hand transplant is now able to write, feed and dress himself, doctors said July 18, declaring the ground-breaking operation a success after 18 months.: This undated handout photo courtesy of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia shows Zion Harvey. The first child in the world to undergo a double hand transplant is now able to write, feed and dress himself, doctors said July 18, declaring the ground-breaking operation a success after 18 months. © AFP/Getty Images This undated handout photo courtesy of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia shows Zion Harvey. The first child in the world to undergo a double hand transplant is now able to write, feed and dress himself, doctors said July 18, declaring the ground-breaking operation a success after 18 months. Zion will have to take medication for the rest of his life (which actually would still be true without the hand transplant, because he had a kidney transplant). But, Amaral said there's a chance he won't need therapy forever, as long as he is using his hand muscles daily. 

Because Zion's case is the first of its kind, it's unclear if he'll regress. Amaral noted Zion's biggest jump in terms of ability was between 8 and 12-months after surgery. She expects his progress will peak at some point. Long-term data is still needed, but will come in time. 

L. Scott Levin, chair of Orthopaedic Surgery at Penn Medicine and lead surgeon on Zion's transplant, said Zion's positive attitude and supportive mother have also enabled him to do so well.

Plus, Zion's medical team is also behind him. Levin, who sees Zion every few months said "he's like a little member of my family."

"I have an unwavering commitment to him as long as he has hands, for the rest of his life," Levin said.

Zion lost his hands and feet when he was as a toddler after he contracted a life-threatening infection and had to have them amputated. He started therapy to learn how to use his transplanted hands about a week after his 2015 operation. 

Follow Ashley May on Twitter: @AshleyMayTweets

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