In a major step forward for science, a team of doctors in the US have successfully completed a total penis and scrotum transplant.
While people around the world have been receiving organ transplants for decades, science has evolved in such a way that genitals can be transplanted from the deceased and to the living. In this particular instance, surgeons from the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore were able to perform surgery on an American soldier who’s genitals were severely damaged in an explosion when he was serving in Afghanistan.
According to a report by the Johns Hopkins University, it took a team of nine plastic surgeons and two urological surgeons to complete the 14-hour surgery. The penis, scrotum and part of the abdominal wall were removed from a deceased donor and successfully transplanted to the young patient, who wishes to remain anonymous. The testicles were not included as part of the transplant.
The gruelling operation occurred on March 26 and the man is expected to be discharged from hospital this week. Surgeons said it was highly likely the man’s urinary and sexual functions will return to normal in the near future. In the paper, the recipient said his injury took a lot of getting used to, but his transplant has given him hope.
“It’s a real mind-boggling injury to suffer; it is not an easy one to accept,” he said. “When I first woke up, I felt finally more normal … [with] a level of confidence as well. Confidence … like finally I’m okay now.”
In many cases, it’s completely possible to reconstruct a penis using tissue from other parts of the body. This process is similar to a mastectomy when breasts are reconstructed using tissue from around the body. In this type of penis reconstruction, an implant is also used to help a male achieve an erection for sexual intercourse.
While it works for female-to-male transgender patients, it’s a lot more difficult for the types of injuries obtained by men at war. There isn’t usually a lot of other tissue on their bodies for surgeons to work with.
Read more: World’s first penis transplant success
Known as a vascularised composite allotransplantation, the man received a full transplant of blood vessels, skin, nerves, muscles, bone and tendons. Similar to other organ transplants, one of the greatest risks is the body rejecting the organ. To prevent this, the man was placed on a range of specially-created anti-rejection drugs to ensure his new genitals continue to function and serve their purpose.
According to BBC News, it’s not the first time a penis transplant has occurred. In 2014, South African surgeons performed the first successful penis transplant in the world, while the very first penis transplant in America was conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston in 2016.
Because of the high success rate, the Johns Hopkins University now has 60 approved genital transplant surgeries in the pipeline. It will help not only war victims, but cancer sufferers as well.
Genitals aren’t the only strange body parts being considered for transplants. In 2016, neurosurgeons said head transplants could be entirely possible, although many question if an ethical line would be crossed if it ever happened.