By Kaitlyn Schaeffer

Surgeons in South Africa announced this month that a 21-year-old penis transplant recipient had achieved full urinary and reproductive functionality. The surgery was performed in December 2014; doctors had anticipated that it would take two years for the patient to achieve this level of functionality. Professor Frank Graewe, a member of the surgical team and the head of plastic reconstructive surgery at Stellenbosch University, said that this procedure “marked a massive breakthrough… We’ve proved it can be done. We can give someone an organ that is just as good as the one that he had.”

The transplant recipient lost his penis three years ago when doctors were forced to remove the organ to save the man’s life following complications from a routine circumcision. Surgeons attached the donor organ to the patient using microsurgical techniques that were developed for facial transplant surgery.

Many doctors hope that this procedure will be able to help many men around the world who have lost their penises for a variety of reasons (botched circumcisions, cancer, etc.) and possibly even those who suffer from severe erectile dysfunction. The South African surgical team is planning to perform the same procedure on nine other men who have lost their penises as part of an initial study investigating these surgical techniques. The loss of a penis can be very detrimental to a male, especially if he is young: “For a young man of 18 or 19 years, the loss of his penis can be deeply traumatic. He doesn’t necessarily have the psychological capability to process this. There are even reports of suicide among these young men,” explained Andre Van De Merwe, the leader of the transplant team.

But others are more cautious about how successful these techniques can be. In 2006, a penis transplant recipient in China suffered such severe psychological stress following the procedure that doctors eventually had to remove the donor organ.

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