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Boston’s Children Hospital Offering Hand Transplants for Kids

Update Date: Jun 17, 2013 09:57 AM EDT

Boston Children's Hospital in Massachusetts announced today that its children hand transplant program would start after a two-year review by the ethics committee. This program, which is the first one to exist in the world, aims to repair missing limbs that young children have lost due to infections, fires, or other unfortunate accidents.

"We feel that this is justifiable," the head of this new program, Dr. Amir Taghinia, said according to FOX News. "Children will potentially benefit even more from this procedure than adults."

The program plans on first reviewing children who are at least 10-years-old and have both hands missing. Currently, transplant surgeries have become more accepted in the medical field. These types of surgeries have been done on adults only with around 70 surgeries recorded globally within the past decade. Three of these adult transplants have occurred at the Brigham and Women's and Massachusetts General hospitals in Boston.

All of the children's must qualify and be good candidates for the procedure. On top of that, the doctors must obtain a child patient's assent as well as the parents' consent. In order to get a child's assent, the hospital has created a four-page form that is written in simple, easy-to-understand language that explains the procedure to the children. The assent form also stresses to the child that no one will be angry if he or she decided to not to have the surgery.

Although the program passed the ethics committee, there are still some risks for the children. Children who receive this type of surgery will have to be on drugs for the rest of their lives. These drugs are needed to prevent the body from attacking the donor tissue, but, on the other hand, these drugs work by suppressing the immune system, which makes the patient more susceptible to infections and cancers throughout his or her lifetime. The doctors stated that no child has ever received a hand from an unrelated donor and thus, the side effects of using immunosuppressant drugs are still unknown.

Despite the uncertainty behind immunosuppressant drugs, doctors have stated that these medications have significantly improved. According to Dr. William Harmon, the medical director for hand and kidney transplants at Children's, 96 to 97 percent of transplant patients are still alive five years post surgery.

"We are going to monitor things very carefully," he added via the Boston Globe.

Although the program could mean huge changes for the medical community, the doctors acknowledged the fact that finding patients and donors will be very difficult. Getting people to consent to an experimental surgery for their children especially when there are viable alternatives, such as prosthetics, could also be hard.

The hospital has stated that it will cover the costs for the surgery and the first three months post surgery. The hospital will also help patients with their insurers for medications and other follow-up care.

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