South African Surgical Team Perform World’s First Successful Penis Transplant


The miracle of modern science keeps surprising the world everyday, things that were previously impossible are now being done everyday. A South African surgical team has just announced the world’s first successful penis transplant, one of the hardest organ to be transplanted in the human anatomy.

On December 11, 2014, a young man received a donor’s penis in a nine-hour procedure that was performed at Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town. Now, three months after that transplant, doctors have announced that the transplanted organ is alive and fully functional both for sex and for urination. They say that even though the surgery went well, full sensation may take a bit longer. Leader of the surgical team Andre van der Merwe of Stellenbosch University said in a statement,

“Our goal was that he would be fully functional at two years and we are very surprised by his rapid recovery.”

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The 21-year-old recipient, whose identify is being protected, had his penis amputated three years ago in order to save his life after he lost all but one centimeter of his penis in a circumcision ritual attempt that went wrong. The circumcision a ritual rite often undergone by members of the Xhosa group as part of the transition from boyhood to adulthood in parts of South Africa. The man was 18 and already sexually active when he had the circumcision.

Doctors say South Africa has some of the greatest needs for penis transplants than any other place in the world. Like the recipient, there are a dozen other men in Africa who would need penis transplants, following similar amputations that occurred after badly performed and unsafe circumcisions.

However, one major problem that doctors may run into in the region is resistance from families of donors, who might be reluctant to let surgeons harvest this particular type of organ from the bodies of their deceased loved ones. Andre van der Merwe said that Researchers initially struggled to obtain a donated penis, but they finally received one after fashioning a replacement out of skin to be buried with the donor. “The family is much happier to send the body to the grave with something resembling a penis,”

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BBC reports that the operation was part of a pilot study to develop a penile transplant procedure that could feasibly be performed in typical South African hospital theater settings. The team used techniques developed for the first facial transplant, including microscopic surgery to connect small blood vessels and nerves. While blood vessels in the kidney can be a centimeter wide, for example, the ones they’re working with here are about 1.5 millimeters wide. Andre Van der Merwe, who normally performs kidney transplants, told the BBC News website:

“This is definitely much more difficult, the blood vessels are 1.5 mm wide. In the kidney it can be 1 cm.”

“It’s a massive breakthrough,” Frank Graewe of Stellenbosch University says. “We’ve proved that it can be done, that we can give someone an organ that is just as good as the one that he had.” Nine more patients will be receiving penile transplants as part of this study.

The first attempt at a penile transplant was in 2006, a patient in China asked doctors to remove his new organ just 10 days after surgery. While the transplant was physically successful, Washington Post explains, the psychological trauma may have been too much. So, this is the second time a surgery like this was attempted, and the first time it was successful.

You would also remember that the successful first heart transplant was also performed in South Africa, in 1967 at the Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town.

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