July 29, 2015 | By Simon

Although we’ve previously heard about the many remarkable instances where 3D printing has helped improve the quality of life for an individual thanks to its increased usage and acceptance in the medical industry, none of the scenarios involved a surgical procedure as complicated as a hand transplant.  Yet, thanks to a team of surgeons in Philadelphia, an 8-year-old boy can now throw the football thanks to a recent hand transplant that was made possible thanks to the aide of 3D printing.  

The 8-year-old, Zion Harvey, sadly lost his hands and feet to an infection several years ago and has since learned how to live without them.

In order for doctors to perform the rare procedure, a total of four simultaneous operating teams were required; while two were focused on the donor limbs, two were focused on Zion.  In order to prepare for the procedure, the team practiced for nearly a year and a half.  Among other reasons, speed was of the utmost importance due to the ability to only have about five hours from the time they received the hands to the time they had to ensure that blood was flowing again.


Of course, finding the right hands to even transplant in the first place wasn’t without its challenges, too.  

In order to determine whether a set of donor hands would be the right size for Zion, Dr. L. Scott Levin and another member of Zion’s surgical team created sample hands on a 3D printer that were based on CT scans of Zion’s forearms.  In order to increase their chances, they made hands that were up to 20% larger and 20% smaller.  These 3D printed hands were then used by Dr. Levin when checking on potential donors.

This week, it was announced by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia that the surgery, which occurred in early July, was a success and that Zion is both the first pediatric hand transplant patient in the U.S. as well as the world's first pediatric bilateral hand transplant patient.

In total, the surgery took 10 hours and involved a team of 40 doctors and nurses from the Children's Hospital, Penn Medicine, and Shriners Hospital for Children in Philadelphia.

According to Dr. Benjamin Chang, a surgeon who was on Zion’s hand transplant team, the complicated surgery involved uniting 2 bones, 2 deep arteries, 4 veins, 10 nerves, and 22 tendons.

"(The challenge involved) bringing everything together so that they not only looked like hands, but also functioned as hands," explained Dr. Chang.

Thanks to the thorough preparations performed by the surgical team in advance of the actual surgery, Zion’s recovery was limited to just a week in the hospital’s intensive care unit.  Currently, he is undergoing intensive hand therapy several times a day in order to improve his hand function. 

As for throwing a football, Zion has a few months before football season gets underway in the US - but there’s no rush, of course.  



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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