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After one soldier lost his private parts in Afghanistan, a pioneering group of medical experts pulled off the difficult transplant.
The world’s first complete scrotum and penis transplant has taken place, which to my depraved mind has the potential to create a whole new meaning to the term “interracial relationship”.
This world-first procedure involved transplanting a penis, scrotum and partial abdominal wall from a deceased donor. To date, only two successful penis transplants have been performed – one in 2014 in South Africa and the other in 2016 at the Massachusetts General Hospital – but both of these surgeries did not involve the scrotum or surrounding flesh; they were transplants of the penis only.
In medical jargon, the surgery is called a “vascularised composite allotransplantation”, which when translated into layman’s terms means the surgery involves transplantation of skin, bone, muscles, tendons and blood vessels. The recipient of the donated package is an American veteran who lost his genitals along with both legs above the knee after he stepped on a hidden bomb in Afghanistan.
BBC News reported that during a telebriefing, Dr WP Andrew Lee, head of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Johns Hopkins University, referred to genitalia wounds an “unspoken injury of war”. He said, “while extremity amputations are visible and resultant disability obvious, some war injuries are hidden and their impact not widely appreciated by others.”
He added, “In a 2014 symposium co-sponsored by Johns Hopkins titled ‘Intimacy After Injury’, we heard from the spouses, families and caregivers of these wounded warriors about the devastating impact of genitourinary injuries on their identity, self-esteem and intimate relationships.”
The positive impact of the surgery on the soldier, who wishes to remain anonymous, appears to be immediate. In a statement released by the university, he said: “When I first woke up, I felt finally more normal, like finally I’m okay now.”
Four weeks on from the surgery, which occurred on 26 March, he has reportedly confirmed that he does feel “whole again”.
The New York Times reported that in an interview the recovering recipient also said of his injury that he “felt like it banished me from a relationship. Like, that’s it, you’re done, you’re by yourself for the rest of your life. I struggled with even viewing myself as a man for a long time.”
He is reported also to have said “It’s a real mind-boggling injury to suffer, it is not an easy one to accept.” But, some four weeks on from the surgery, which occurred on 26 March, he has reportedly confirmed that he does, indeed, feel “whole again”.
Dr Lee agrees that the goal of this type of transplant is “to restore a person’s sense of identity and manhood.”
Although it may take months or even years, the patient is expected to eventually regain full urinary and sexual function. This refers specifically to being able to stand up while urinating and have sexual intercourse.
“We’re hopeful we can restore sexual function in terms of spontaneous erection and orgasm,” Dr Lee explained.
Although the scrotum was transplanted, due to ethical reasons the donor’s testes were excluded from the transplant in a bid to ensure the recipient would not father children that genetically belonged to the donor, something not considered acceptable within medical guidelines. Since the recipient’s own reproductive tissue was destroyed in the injury, he is unable be able to father his own biological children.
Eleven surgeons were involved in the 14-hour operation – two urologists and nine plastic surgeons – and, interestingly, it was this very same team from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland (USA) who performed the country’s first bilateral arm transplant.
This operation was funded by the Johns Hopkins Genital Transplant Program, and is just one of 60 approved genital transplant surgeries that will occur as part of the program.