Only one child is known to have received a hand transplant—in Malaysia in 2000—but that will soon change when Boston Children's Hospital opens its hand transplant program for children, the world's first. As transplants of hands, legs, faces, and other non-life-saving parts of the body become more common in adults, doctors say the operations are becoming safe enough to offer to children, the AP reports. In fact, children could benefit even more, since their nerves regrow more quickly and they typically experience more problems with prosthetic hands than adults do, says the lead doctor.
The immune-suppressing drugs that must be taken after a transplant are the main risk for kids, since they cause side effects and could also raise the risk of cancer. (The AP notes that the aforementioned transplant avoided this issue, as the baby who received the hand did so from a twin who had died at birth, thereby eliminating rejection issues.) But as one expert points out, "this is never going to be done as an emergency procedure, so the families will have plenty of opportunity to weigh the options." The first children to take part in Boston's program will be 10 years or older and missing both hands; the hospital will cover the cost of the operation and the first three months of care.