clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

America's first penis transplants will help injured veterans

The world's first successful transplant was performed a year ago

Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet / Flickr

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University will perform the US's first penis transplant in 2016, according to The New York Times. And when they do, they will be helping a soldier who was injured by a bomb blast in Afghanistan.

Johns Hopkins has given its doctors permission to perform 60 of the experimental surgeries. It's unclear how high the demand is for this type of transplant, but a lot of people might end up benefitting from these operations if the researchers are successful. Between 2001 and 2013, more than 1,300 men in the US military have suffered injuries to their genitals, according to the Department of Defense Trauma Registry. Most were under the age of 35 at the time, and many lost all or a portion of their penises or testicles.

These injuries are "as devastating as anything that our wounded warriors suffer."

"These genitourinary injuries are not things we hear about or read about very often," W. P. Andrew Lee, the chairman of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Johns Hopkins, told the Times. But these injuries are "as devastating as anything that our wounded warriors suffer."

This won't be the world's first penis transplant. The first successful surgery was performed in December of last year; the recipient was a 21-year-old man in South Africa who lost the organ because of complications related to a traditional circumcision procedure. In June, his doctors announced another success: the recipient's partner is pregnant. There has been another high-profile attempt in 2006, but it ended in failure. Doctors in China spent 15 hours attaching a penis to a 44-year-old patient, only to reverse it two weeks later at the patient's request. At the time, the recipient and his wife said they were suffering from psychological problems.

As with any transplant, the risks of this operation are great. Bleeding, infections, rejections, and psychological effects could all arise; and some men may not regain complete function. But for many, the benefits may outweigh the risks. Lee told the Times that fathering children after the operation is a "realistic goal."

For now, the transplant will be available only to veterans who were injured during a combat mission. The operation will take 12 hours and cost between $200,000 and $400,000; the university has offered to pay for the first surgery. For all 60 operations, the penis will come from a deceased donor. If the surgeries go well, Johns Hopkins University may decide to make the transplant a standard treatment.