The recipient of the world's first penis transplant is due to become a father, according to his surgeon. The news comes just months after the operation was performed, surpassing the expectations of the surgeon.
"We are happy that there were no complications and his penis is functioning well," Dr. Andre Van der Merwe - of Stellenbosch University in South Africa - told AFP.
Dr. Van der Merwe was surprised at how soon the man had recovered his sexual function, having initially aimed for his patient to be fully functional again after 2 years. Despite the surgery only being carried out in December, the patient reports his girlfriend is around 4 months pregnant.
The patient originally had his original penis amputated 3 years ago after a traditional circumcision went wrong, leaving him with only 1 cm of the organ.
In many countries, circumcisions are carried out routinely in safe environments, but in South Africa, circumcision can be a risky procedure. There are many reports of boys being maimed or even killed during traditional initiation ceremonies each year.
Although there can be deadly complications with botched circumcisions, penis transplants are far from routine procedures. Dr. Van der Merwe described the operation as more difficult than a kidney transplant due to the fact that the blood vessels in the penis are significantly narrower than those in the kidneys.
Penis transplants 'can bring patients back to life'
As well as being a thoroughly complex procedure to carry out, the surgeons also faced a struggle in getting approval from authorities to be allowed to perform the surgery. The team had to argue the case that the benefits of the surgery would outweigh the risks.
"You may say it doesn't save their life, but many of these young men when they have penile amputations are ostracized, stigmatized and take their own life," Dr. Van der Merwe told the BBC. "If you don't have a penis you are essentially dead, if you give a penis back you can bring them back to life."
One of the risks of transplants is that transplanted organs can be rejected by their new host body. A previous penis transplant, attempted in China, was initially believed to have gone well, only for the donated penis to later be rejected.
Following the 9-hour operation to attach the donated penis at Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa, the anonymous 21-year-old patient has been able to pass urine, maintain an erection, orgasm and ejaculate, even though full sensation has yet to return to the organ.
The fact that the patient has been able to father a child is unsurprising to Dr. Van der Merwe, however. "There was nothing preventing him from having children because his sperm wasn't affected," he explained to AFP.
Due to the success of the procedure, Dr. Van der Merwe and his team have been flooded with requests from men who have had penis amputations. Unfortunately, they are currently unable to meet the demand.
Dr. Van der Merwe hopes that as news spreads of the procedure's success, more penis donors will become available.
"Right now we have about nine people on our program," he told AFP. "I don't think it would be easy but I believe people will now come forward because of this positive case."
Medical News Today recently reported on another world's first transplant, when a 55-year-old man became the first person to undergo a partial skull and scalp transplant. The patient required surgery following unsuccessful treatment for a rare form of cancer.