Boston Children’s Hospital opens world’s first hand transplant program for kids

Boston Children’s Hospital transplant surgeons are actively seeking children who need new hands. The facility has a new pediatric hand transplant unit, which opened Monday — the first of its kind in the world.

“It has been shown in adults that hand transplants can be safe and effective; the time is right to bring this to a younger population,” said Dr. William Harmon, the medical director at the new program.

Adult hand transplants have gone forth with success in recent years, doctors say. Following a failed first attempt in 1964 and subsequent tries through the decades, the medical community has honed its immunosuppression drug treatment to the point where successful hand transplants are now near common. Since 1998, more than 70 surgeries have ended in success, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The string of successes led doctors at the Children’s Hospital in Boston to open the door for younger patients to receive the surgery. The surgery is one of the more complicated transplant procedures; the operation involves skin, muscle, tendons, nerves, blood vessels, bone, cartilage and fat, the L.A. Times reported. Hand transplant surgery can take twice as long as heart transplant operations, doctors say.

But kids can heal faster, Dr. Harmon said.

“We know from experience that kids can regenerate nerves better than adults and believe that their immature immune systems can learn to adapt to a transplant successfully,” he said, in the L.A. Times report.

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