A team of South African scientists from Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Hospital has performed the world’s first penile transplant, which appears to be a success.
The 21-year-old patient recovered more quickly than expected. Five weeks after surgery, he was able to urinate, have erections, and ejaculate. Full-sensation had not yet returned, however.
“Our goal was that he would be fully functional at two years and we are very surprised by his rapid recovery,” said lead surgeon André van der Merwe, head of the Stellenbosch University Division of Urology, in a press release.
The nine-hour procedure took place in December 2014. The surgeons connected blood vessels and nerves from the man’s stump to a donor penis, using some of the methods developed for facial transplants.
Transplant coordinators, anesthetists, theater nurses, a psychologist, and an ethicist were also involved.
A member of the Xhosa tribe, the patient’s penis had been amputated three years earlier, after a botched circumcision. Circumcision of men in their late teens is a tradition in Xhosa culture. Usually, a tribal practitioner performs them, not a physician.
The practice is a concern among the South African medical community. “There is a greater need in South Africa for this type of procedure than elsewhere in the world, as many young men lose their penises every year due to complications from traditional circumcision,” Dr. van der Merwe explained in the press statement.
Experts estimate that 250 men have their penis amputated each year because of such complications.
Dr. van der Merwe added, “This is a very serious situation. For a young man of 18 or 19 years the loss of his penis can be deeply traumatic. He doesn't necessarily have the psychological capability to process this. There are even reports of suicide among these young men.”
This transplant is the first of ten planned as part a pilot study.
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(Press release. March 13, 2013)