A surgical team at John Hopkins University is hoping to expand its repertoire beyond arms and hands and is currently planning the first penile transplant operation in the U.S. The procedure is being aimed at wounded soldiers and aims to help restore lost sexual and urinary functions.
“Genitourinary” trauma, or GU, refers to traumatic injuries suffered to the genitals, bladder, urinary tract, or kidneys. GU injuries are relatively new to soldiers and have come about mainly as a result of the presence of improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan and Iraq. During the height of these wars between 2001 and 2008, 16,323 injuries of this type had occurred in soldiers with the average victim being 24-years-old.
In addition to the psychological impact of losing one’s sexual organs, there are also urinary difficulties and the inability to perform intercourse that victims must deal with. While, strictly speaking, a person’s fertility would not be impacted if the testicles were unharmed, the loss of the penis would make the task significantly harder.
The John Hopkins team currently has a prospective patient lined up but lacks a donor at this time. Although the team has not performed a penile operation before, they have done several hand and arm transplants and the process—from a surgical standpoint—is not overly different. Arteries and veins will need to be linked along with at least two nerves. Ideally, urinary and sexual function would be regained after a few months of recovery.
Although the Hopkins team would be performing the country’s first penile transplant, the procedure has been performed elsewhere before. In 2006, Chinese surgeons performed the world’s first penile transplant on a man who had lost his in an accident. Although the procedure was successful, the man and his wife had the organ removed two weeks later citing unspecified “psychological difficulties”.
In 2015, South African doctors performed the second known penile transplant. The patient in that case made what was described as an unexpectedly fast recovery, regaining urinary and sexual function within months instead of the anticipated years. He even managed to impregnate his girlfriend after the operation.
Due to the low number of cases to base predictions on, the John Hopkins patient will be closely followed to make sure the recovery goes smoothly. If successful, the operation will likely be offered to more wounded veterans and civilians.
Sources for Today’s Article:
Goldschmidt, D., et al., “First Penis Transplant Patient’s Girlfriend Is Pregnant, Doctor Says,” CNN web site, June 12, 2015; http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/12/health/penis-transplant-south-africa-pregnancy/.
Kounang, N., “Penis Transplants Give Hope to Wounded Troops,” CNN web site, December 10, 2015; http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/09/health/first-us-penile-transplant/index.html.
Sample, I., “Man Rejects First Penis Transplant,” The Guardian web site, September 18, 2006; http://www.theguardian.com/science/2006/sep/18/medicineandhealth.china.