Doctors complete first-ever penis transplant

Chuck Bednar for – @BednarChuck

Big news that will probably excite and arouse the attention of men everywhere: Doctors in South Africa have reportedly completed the world’s first successful penis transplant operation.

According to The Verge, a team of surgeons from Stellenbosch University and the Tygerberg Hospital were able to replace the reproductive organ of a man who had lost it three years prior due to complications from a circumcision.

The operation took place in December, left the patient with a “fully functional” penis, doctors said. They originally believed it could take the man (who is not being identified) as much as two years to regain full usage of his member. However, much to their surprise, he has already completely recovered all urinary and reproductive functions following the transplant.

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“Our goal was that he would be fully functional at two years and we are very surprised by his rapid recovery,” Professor André van der Merwe, head of SU’s Division of Urology and the lead surgeon on the December 11, 2014 operation, said in a statement.

“It’s a massive breakthrough. We’ve proved that it can be done – we can give someone an organ that is just as good as the one that he had,” added Professor Frank Graewe, head of the Division of Plastic Reconstructive Surgery at the SU Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS). “It was a privilege to be part of this first successful penis transplant in the world.”

A very nice donation

The unidentified recipient, who according to Sky News is a 21-year-old man, was not alone in his post-circumcision plight. Experts report that an estimated 250 penis amputations take place every year across South Africa, and most of those are due to botched circumcisions.

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“This is a very serious situation. For a young man of 18 or 19 years, the loss of his penis can be deeply traumatic,” explained van der Merwe. “He doesn’t necessarily have the psychological capability to process this. There are even reports of suicide among these young men.”

“The heroes in all of this for me are the donor, and his family,” the professor added, noting that one of the major challenges of the procedure was finding a donor. “They saved the lives of many people because they donated the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, skin, corneas, and then the penis.”

Lots of preparation

The procedure was the second penis transplant ever attempted. In 2006, a similar operation was attempted in China, but it had to be reversed two weeks later after the patient began experiencing psychological issues following the surgery. It was part of a pilot study to develop a new penile transplant procedure that could be performed in a typical South African hospital.

Planning and preparation for the study started in 2010, and following extensive research Van der Merwe and his colleagues decided to employ some parts of the model and techniques developed for the world’s first facial transplant that was completed in Spain five years ago.

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“We used the same type of microscopic surgery to connect small blood vessels and nerves, and the psychological evaluation of patients was also similar. The procedure has to be sustainable and has to work in our environment at Tygerberg,” the surgeon said, noting that it could also be used to help men who have lost their penises to penile cancer or to treat erectile dysfunction.

Dr Beth Engelbrecht, head of Western Cape Government Health (WCGH), said that she was “very proud to be part of this ground-breaking scientific achievement… a young man’s life has been significantly changed with this very complex surgical feat. From experience we know that penile dysfunction and disfigurement has a major adverse psychological effect on people.”


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