A wounded veteran who lost most of his penis in an explosion will be the first U.S. recipient of a penis transplant. If it’s a success, 60 more injured soldiers are waiting in the wings for the life-changing surgery.
According to experts and doctors, of all the injuries a soldier can suffer in war, the loss of the penis is by far the most emotionally traumatic, Reuters reported. The injury effects the sense of identity and manhood, and robs the injured of his hopes for fatherhood.
“These are very important in terms of giving back a sense of self,” Carisa Cooney, with Johns Hopkins Hospital, told The Washington Post.
The first penis transplant in the U.S. will take place within a couple weeks, Reuters reported. For now, the veteran’s name is being withheld and little is known about his condition, except that he lost most of the organ and suffered a severe injury to his groin in a bomb explosion. Reports suggest he was wounded in Afghanistan.
According the Post, in addition to the transplant, he’ll also need to have his scrotum, groin, sections of his abdominal wall and inner wall replaced as well.
Right now, doctors are looking for the right donor. Most importantly, specific permission is required in order to obtain the organ, and doctors must evaluate the donor to ensure he has the right blood type, skin tone, and is within five to 10 years of the transplant recipient’s age.
The operation is tricky and intricate, requiring the connection of nerves and blood vessels under a microscope, and takes 12 hours, The New York Daily News reported. Surgeons are practicing on cadavers right now.
Surgeons had planned to perform this procedure in December, but just identified the right patient. He had to be approved and underwent psychiatric evaluations that can take up to a year.
“There’s a significant loss with the initial injury that the patient has to overcome emotionally, so we make sure to have a psychiatrist, who is also an expert in psychosexual disorders, on the team,” Cooney said.
A successful operation has the power to completely transform this anonymous veteran’s life, and dozens of men after him, but it comes with risks. In the best case scenario, the transplanted penis will have full function, including urination, sensation, and sex. It’s also intended to heal psychological trauma.
According to Marine medic and veterans advocate, Thor Wold, sexual function is probably the most important thing to these wounded men. After any genital surgery, they immediately ask, “‘Is everything OK down there, doc? My wife’s at home and we’re trying to have a baby when I get back.'” So the stakes are high.
But, the operation is tough and afterwards, the patient needs medication to keep the organ from being rejected, ABC News noted. Patients must also be aware that it may not work, leading to more difficulty.
“We can’t guarantee the outcome or the extent of urinary function, erection and ability to have sexual intercourse or have children,” Cooney said, and if it does, function will take up to a year to get back.
This transplant will be the third in the entire world and the first in the U.S. So far, the success rate is only 50 percent. The second recipient, a South African man, was able to father a child after his procedure. But the world’s first transplant, on a Chinese man in 2006, ended in failure. He asked doctors to remove his new penis, because he found its presence on his body too strange and disturbing.
But this penis transplant could be the first of many. Right now, only wounded vets can get the surgery, and 1,367 serviceman who served in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2011 and 2013 suffered genital injuries during combat.
A further 60 wounded vets are waiting to receive penis transplants if this first one is a success. And, further, down the line, men with birth defects and the transgendered could benefit.
[Photo By Oleg Zabielin/Shutterstock]