14 Mar 2015
Doctors Claim First Successful Penis Transplant
The South African doctors have achieved
what they call the world's first successful penile
The nine-hour operation occurred on December
11, 2014, involving a team of doctors at
Stellenbosch University in Cape Town and others
from Tygerberg Hospital.
The young man, whose identity "is being
protected for ethical reasons," has made a full
recovery -- a result which the doctors did not
expect to occur until about December 2016. The
recovery includes, "restoration of all the patient's
urinary and reproductive functions," according to
a university press release Friday.
"It's a massive breakthrough. We've proved that
it can be done" said Professor Frank Graewe,
head of the division of plastic reconstructive
surgery at Stellenbosch University. "We can give
someone an organ that is just as good as the
one that he had."
The patient's penis was amputated after
complications arose from a traditional
circumcision, which was performed during a
coming of age ceremony. Such initiation
practices are common in African nations, but
have increasingly come under scrutiny for risk of
Doctors used techniques developed, in part, for
the world's first facial transplant. Dr. André van
der Merwe, the head of the team of doctors said,
"We used the same type of microscopic surgery
to connect small blood vessels and nerves, and
the psychological evaluation of patients was also
Psychological factors are important for the
success of any transplant operation.
Dr. John Robinson, professor of psychiatry and
surgery at Howard University, told CNN, "The
anxiety of waiting for a transplant creates a lot
of anxiety and tension. Once you get the
transplant, the anxiety of rejection keeps people
This isn't the first penile transplant. Doctors in
China performed an unsuccessful transplant in
2006. That patient rejected the transplant due to
"a severe psychological problem," and had it
removed, though no medical rejection was found.
"Any type of therapy that returns men to
normalcy is beneficial, but at the same time, we
need to keep in mind the person as a whole,"
including the personal and psychological aspects,
says Dr. Anthony Atala, director of the Wake
Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine and
member of the American Urological Association.
"At the same time, it'll be important to have a
follow-up to ensure that we don't have what
happened in China."
In the United States, doctor-performed
circumcisions result in fewer than 2 in 10,000
complications, including bleeding, infection, and
injury to the penis, according to the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention.
Complete statistics are not available on the
numbers of nonmedical circumcisions in Eastern
and Southern Africa, though reports from the
World Health Organization show wide-ranging
numbers : as low as 2% in parts of South Africa
and up to 35% in Kenya.
The South African doctors celebrated the
success of the procedure, but also recognize the
donor who made it all possible. Van der Merwe
said, "The heroes in all of this for me are the
donor, and his family. They saved the lives of
many people because they donated the heart,
lungs, kidneys, liver, skin, corneas, and then the