Doctors in South Africa have performed the first successful penile transplant surgery on a 21-year-old recipient.

The nine-hour operation, which was conducted by a team of doctors from the Stellenbosch University (SU) and Tygerberg Hospital and led by SU's Division of Urology head André van der Merwe, took place on Dec. 11, 2014 at the Tygerberg Hospital in Bellville, Cape Town.

It was not the first time that doctors attempted to perform this type of procedure, but it was the first time that the long-term result was successfully achieved. In 2006, Chinese doctors made an attempt, but they failed when the body of the patient rejected the organ.

The latest procedure is part of a pilot study that aims to develop a penile transplant procedure that can be performed in a typical South African hospital setting. Van der Merwe explained that penile transplant is particularly important for men in South Africa. Many young men lose their penises as a result of complications from traditional circumcision, which is performed during a coming-of-age ceremony.

The penis of the patient, whose identity was withheld, had to be amputated three years ago to save his life when he developed severe complications after going through a traditional circumcision. It is estimated that the country sees as many as 250 amputations per year.

The patient has now fully recovered and regained all the functions of his transplanted organ. Van der Merwe said that the goal was for the patient to become fully functional in two years, but they were surprised by the rapid recovery.

"For a young man of 18 or 19 years the loss of his penis can be deeply traumatic," Van der Merwe said. "He doesn't necessarily have the psychological capability to process this. There are even reports of suicide among these young men."

The doctors used techniques that were partly developed for the first facial transplant in the world. One challenge, however, was the difficulty in finding a donor.

"We used the same type of microscopic surgery to connect small blood vessels and nerves, and the psychological evaluation of patients was also similar," Van der Merwe said.

The procedure may also be extended to men who have lost their manhood because of penile cancer. It can also be used as a last resort treatment for erectile dysfunction caused by side effects of medications.

Photo: Kristopher Radder | Flickr 

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