In a ground-breaking operation, a team of pioneering surgeons from Stellenbosch University (SU) and Tygerberg Hospital performed the first successful penile transplant in the world. The marathon nine-hour operation was performed an urology surgical team on 11 December 2014 at Tygerberg Hospital in Bellville, Cape Town. This is the second time that this type of procedure was attempted, but the first time in history that a successful long-term result was achieved.
The patient, whose identity is being protected for ethical reasons, has made a full recovery and has regained all function in the newly transplanted organ.
The team explain that the goal was that the patient would be fully functional at two years and were very surprised by his rapid recovery. The end result of the transplant was the restoration of all the patient’s urinary and reproductive functions.
The procedure was part of a pilot study to develop a penile transplant procedure that could be performed in a typical South African hospital theatre setting. There is a greater need in South Africa for this type of procedure than elsewhere in the world, as many young men lose their penises every year due to complications from traditional circumcision.
Three years ago the 21-year-old recipient’s penis had to be amputated in order to save his life when he developed severe complications after a traditional circumcision. Although there are no formal records on the number of penile amputations per year due to traditional circumcision, one study reported up to 55 cases in the Eastern Cape alone, and experts estimate as many as 250 amputations per year across the country.
The surgeons state that this is a very serious situation. For a young man of 18 or 19 years the loss of his penis can be deeply traumatic with reports of suicide among these young men. The team stress that the heroes in all of this 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 penis, adding that finding a donor organ was one of the major challenges of the study.
The planning and preparation for the study started in 2010. After extensive research the surgical team decided to employ some parts of the model and techniques developed for the first facial transplant using the same type of microscopic surgery to connect small blood vessels and nerves. The same methods of palliative care used by the first facial transplant team were also used with the current technique.
The team summise that this procedure could eventually also be extended to men who have lost their penises from penile cancer or as a last-resort treatment for severe erectile dysfunction due to medication side effects. As part of the study, nine more patients will receive penile transplants.
Source: Stellenbosch University