Modern medicine is capable of some amazing feats. Nowadays, kidney, heart, liver and lung transplants are commonplace, saving lives every day. Recently, however, a new type of procedure was performed for the first time, when a medical team in South Africa successfully performed a penis transplant.
For men of the Xhosa tribe of South Africa, ritual circumcisions are a rite of passage. The procedure is typically done when the young men are in their teens, and, not surprisingly, it has been described as incredibly painful. Also, because the ritual is not performed in a medical facility utilizing modern techniques, complications are relatively common.
Following his ritual circumcision, the patient who would go on to receive the transplant experienced a number of complications. In fact, his penis was so severely damaged that it required amputation. For three years prior to the transplant, the young man was forced to live without a functional penis.
The first successful penile transplant took roughly nine hours to complete. In order to facilitate the transplant, Dr. Andre van der Merwe and his surgical team made use of modern microsurgery techniques in order to properly align the nerves, blood vessels, urethra and other tissues between the harvested penis and the patient’s severed organ.
As with any transplant, there is always the possibility of rejection, and the patient will need to take anti-rejection medication for the rest of his life. Still, Dr. van der Merwe sees the procedure as an unmitigated success. The patient has regained full use of his penis, and after only five weeks the young man reported that he’d been able to achieve an erection and even engage in sexual intercourse.
At present, the Xhosa tribe has a population of over eight million. Unfortunately many of them experience complications following the circumcision ritual, and a number of traditional circumcisions performed throughout the country result in irreversible damage as well. Altogether, experts estimate that every year roughly 250 young men in South Africa are forced to have their penises amputated.
Even though the transplant procedure has only been performed once, its success offers a glimmer of hope to young men in need. After all, success can be replicated. And it may only be a matter of time before Dr. van der Merwe and his team perfect their transplantation technique and the procedure becomes commonplace.
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