Doctors in the United States have performed the world’s first penis and scrotum transplant, performing the surgery on a US military sergeant severely injured several years ago in an IED blast in Afghanistan.
The man, whose name was not given, is recovering well and expected to regain both urinary and sexual function, said Richard Redett, who led the transplant team.
He told a press conference on Monday in Baltimore, where the team at Johns Hopkins hospital worked, that the patient underwent 14 hours of surgery in late March.
It is not the world’s first penis transplant – that was carried out in 2014 in South Africa – and nor is it the first in the US. That was in 2016 at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
It is, however, the most significant transplant to date.
In addition to a large skin graft covering part of the sergeant’s abdomen, penis and scrotum, surgeons connected three arteries, four veins and two nerves to provide blood flow and sensation to the donated tissue. His internal organs were not damaged by the blast.
The sergeant did not receive testicles from his donor to avoid the ethical issues that might ensue if he later had children, said Damon Cooney, another transplant team member. The testicles would have contained sperm from the recently deceased donor.
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The donor was not identified, nor was his cause of death, but his family released a statement praising the sergeant’s service to his country and noting the donor family includes a number of military veterans.
“We are so thankful to say that our loved one would be proud and honoured to know he provided such a special gift to you,” said the statement, read by Alexandra Glazier, president and CEO of New England Donor Services, which arranged for the donation.
“We hope you can return to better health very soon and we continue to wish you a speedy recovery.”
Dr Redett said he expects the soldier will regain the ability to urinate by the time he leaves the hospital later this week.
It will take about six months for the nerves to regrow enough to restore sexual function and sensation, but Dr Redett said he is optimistic that this will occur.
We are so thankful to say that our loved one would be proud and honoured to know he provided such a special gift to youA statement from the donor's family
The recipient’s body may reject the donated tissue at any time, so he has to be on continuous therapy to control his immune system, said Gerald Brandacher, who handled the immune aspects of the transplant.
To reduce the risk of rejection, the sergeant was also infused with bone marrow from the donor.
W. P. Andrew Lee, director of the hospital’s department of plastic and reconstructive surgery, said they had been preparing for penile transplants since 2013, in the belief that injuries that affect sexual and urinary function can be devastating to a person’s identity, self-esteem and intimate relationships.
“We believe that genital-urinary transplantation can help those warriors with missing genitalia, just as hand and arm transplants transformed the lives of amputees,” he said.