Doctors at a South African hospital are the first in the world to have performed two successful penis transplant surgeries.
A team of doctors from Stellenbosch University (SU) performed the marathon nine and a half hour operation on April 21 at the Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa.
The recipient — whose identity is being protected — was a 40-year-old man who lost his penis 17 years ago due to complications after a ritual circumcision. He is expected to make a full recovery and regain all urinary and reproductive functions within six months.
“He is certainly one of the happiest patients we have seen in our ward. He is doing remarkably well. There are no signs of rejection and all the reconnected structures seem to be healing well,” said Prof André van der Merwe, Head of the Division of Urology at SU’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences.
The first successful penis transplant was performed by van der Merwe and his team in December, 2014. More than two years later, the patient is doing extremely well, van der Merwe says.
“He is living a normal life. His urinary and sexual functions have returned to normal, and he has virtually forgotten that he had a transplant,” said van der Merwe.
However, one of the most difficult hurdles the doctors are faced with is not the surgery — it’s finding willing organ donors.
“I think the lack of penis transplants across the world since we performed the first one in 2014, is mostly due to a lack of donors,” said van der Merwe. “It might be easier to donate organs that you cannot see, like a kidney, than something like a hand or a penis.”
Related: Sex, Weight Mismatches May Lead to Organ Transplant Failures
South Africa has some of the highest rates of penile mutilation due to circumcisions performed as part of a rite of passage on young men in certain parts of the country. Many of these circumcisions are performed in remote areas by medically untrained village elders.
“Patients describe a penis transplant as ‘receiving a new life,’” said Dr. Amir Zarrabi of SU’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Services Division of Urology. “For these men the penis defines manhood and the loss of this organ causes tremendous emotional and psychological distress. I usually see cases of partial or total amputations in July and December — the period when traditional circumcisions are performed.”
Danielle Tarasiuk is a multimedia journalist based in Los Angeles. Her work has been published on AllDay.com, Yahoo! Sports, KCET, and NPR-affiliate stations KPCC and KCRW. She’s a proud Sarah Lawrence College and USC Annenberg alumn.