Penis transplants for wounded American soldiers are on the verge of becoming a reality. A soldier will soon undergo the first penis transplant procedure in the United States, doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital have reported. If the operation becomes successful, it could pave the way for curing around 60 other servicemen with genital injuries.
A donated organ for a recently deceased male is hoped to offer the full range of function for its recipient, including urination and sex. To conduct the surgery, specialists will join nerves and blood vessels under a microscope.
The penis transplant could take place in the coming weeks, with doctors currently looking for a good donor with matching age and skin color and whose family will permit the removal of his genitals.
Penile health emerges as an “embarrassing” yet important concern of returning soldiers, according to Thor Wold, an advocate for veterans and a Marine medic in the Iraq War.
"[The soldiers] would ask: 'Is everything okay down there doc? My wife's at home and we're trying to have a baby when I get back,’” he recalls.
The American soldier to receive the first penis surgery in the country lost majority of his organ and obtained significant groin injuries due to a bomb explosion overseas.
Plastic surgeon Dr. Richard Redett, who will be part of the surgery team, says a blast injury of that kind would likely need not just the penis replaced, but also other parts like the scrotum, groin tissue, portions of the abdominal wall and some of the inner thigh.
In addition, the transplant will not involve the testes, which produces the sperm. This means that the offspring of a patient with a transplanted organ will remain his in the genetic sense.
Post-surgery, the doctors will focus on ensuring that the transplanted tissue is healthy, or with adequate blood supply and no apparent rejection. The next phase is regaining function, with nerves growing around one millimeter a day. The patient is expected to regain urinary and sexual function up to a year after the surgery.
After being on anti-rejection drugs for a couple of days, the patient will receive an infusion of the bone marrow of the donor. This is theoretically anticipated to slash the amount of immunosuppressive medication needed to be taken in his lifetime.
Carisa Cooney of Johns Hopkins said they would have to make a special request to donors’ families on an individual basis, as it is not a routine donation that would be noted on one’s driver’s license.
So far there have been two penis transplants done worldwide: an unsuccessful operation in China in 2006, and one in South Africa in 2014 when the patient successfully impregnated his partner shortly after the procedure.
While the surgery is currently being offered to injured military personnel, doctors aspire to also perform it in the future on transgenders and men with birth defects.
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