In 2016, surgeons from Johns Hopkins University are going to perform 60 penis transplants, a type of operation which has never been conducted before in the U.S. The first will be an unnamed patient injured in Afghanistan.
The recipients will be veterans who have suffered a genitourinary injury, having lost all or part of their penis and testicles. The organ will come from a recently deceased donor, and the medical team expects it to start working within months, developing sensation and urinary function, then eventually acquiring the ability to have sex.
The surgery takes 12 hours, during which the doctors will connect two to six nerves and six or seven arteries and veins. The patients should be able to urinate autonomously within a few weeks, but other functions might take longer to return. For sexual functions to develop, the nerves of the patient have to grow in the donor organ and timing depend on the extent of the injury, as nerves grow at about 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) per month.
Once the transplant is successful the men will be put on anti-rejection medication, which stops the immune system attacking the new organ. These types of medicine have side effects, and people taking them have an increased risk of contracting infections and developing cancer.
The surgery is considered highly experimental. There have only been two other penis transplants: a failed one in China in 2006 and a successful one in South Africa in 2014. Johns Hopkins University has given permission to perform 60 transplants and it will monitor the results closely. If they are positive, it will consider making this surgery a standard treatment.
During the recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, 12 percent of war injuries were genitourinary ones. According to the Department of Defense Trauma Registry, 1,367 men in military service during those conflicts suffered a genital wound.
“These genitourinary injuries are not things we hear about or read about very often,” Dr W. P. Andrew Lee, the chairman of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Johns Hopkins, toldThe New York Times. “I think one would agree it is as devastating as anything that our wounded warriors suffer, for a young man to come home in his early 20s with the pelvic area completely destroyed.”