Experts at Johns Hopkins successfully perform world's first penis transplant on a war veteran

A team of 11 surgeons performed the 14-hour surgery last month in which a disabled war veteran gained an appendage


                            Experts at Johns Hopkins successfully perform world's first penis transplant on a war veteran
(Source:Getty Images)

On Monday, Johns Hopkins Hospital announced that they were able to successfully perform the world's first ever total penis and scrotum transplant on a war veteran who was injured in Afghanistan. According to the hospital, the appendages along with a part of the abdominal wall were taken from a deceased donor. It took a sizeable team of nine plastic surgeons and two urological surgeons to perform the 14-hour surgery last month, reported Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Officials said that the patient has finally recovered from the surgery and is expected to be discharged this week. The hospital has not revealed further details about the veteran such as the branch of the military in which he served.

"When I first woke up, I felt finally more normal… [with] a level of confidence as well. Confidence… like finally I’m okay now," said the patient, on condition of anonymity. "It's a real mind-boggling injury to suffer, it is not an easy one to accept," he said.

The medical center said that many war veterans and active duty soldiers suffer grave injuries if they are caught in the blast radius of improvised explosive devices. Quite a few of these injuries are hidden from the public out of shame - such as the loss of one's genitals.

W.P. Andrew Lee, M.D., professor and director of plastic and reconstructive surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said, "We are hopeful that this transplant will help restore near-normal urinary and sexual functions for this young man."

He said that such transplants "can help those warriors with missing genitalia just as hand and arm transplant transformed the lives of amputees." 

Medical authorities said that doctors are optimistic that the patient would be able to enjoy near-normal urinary and, eventually, sexual function within the next six months.

Lee explained only a transplanted penis can achieve a natural erection. Usually, a penis can be reconstructed using other tissue from the body in cases where congenital abnormalities have to be treated, or during gender reassignment surgeries. However, they wouldn't help with an erection. Also, Lee said, wounded warriors usually don't have enough good tissue to work with.

It is no surprise that losing a penis can be emotionally traumatic. It can affect urinary function, sexual intimacy and ultimately, their ability to conceive an offspring.

There are many wounded warriors who suffer in silence due to the stigma attached to such injuries.

That being said, there are several risks faced by candidates for such a procedure, including side effects from anti-rejection drugs that have to be taken for life as well as the rejection of the tissue altogether.

However, the prospect of getting a transplanted penis is deemed a new lease of life for many of these war veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq. Recognizing the potential of such a procedure, surgeons began planning and rehearsing how to perform these operations a few years ago in patients with significant damage to the tissue.

That being said, the scrotum transplant did not include the donor's testicles, and so reproduction is not a possibility. Dr. Damon Cooney from Hopkin's said that with the extra step, there "were too many unanswered ethical questions" to be answered.

The same team had performed the nation's first bilateral arm transplant in a wounded serviceman.

Until now, there have been four other successful penis transplants performed across the world. Two in South Africa, one in Boston and one in China. However, those operations involved only the penis and not the surrounding abdominal tissue.

Finding donors for a transplant such as this is a big hurdle for medical authorities. People or their families who agree to donate their organs have to be asked in seclusion about the donation of a private part such as a penis or a hand.

The family of the donor said they have "several veterans in the family" and released a statement saying they were "very proud that our loved one was able to help a young man that served this country".

"[He] would be proud and honored to know he provided such a special gift to you," they said.