Within the next year, a young soldier who was severely injured in a bomb explosion in Afghanistan will be the first ever recipient of a penis transplant in the United States. The procedure will be conducted by surgeons from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. The doctors say that the new genital will develop urinary function, sensation and the ability to have sex within a matter of mere months after the groundbreaking operation.
Between 2001 and 2013, 1,367 American servicemen sustained severe wounds to their genitals while serving in Afghanistan or Iraq. Almost all of these men were under the age of 35. These wounds are largely private matters because of the aspects of shame, stigma and embarrassment.
Johns Hopkins reconstructive surgeon Dr. W. P. Andrew Lee said, “These genitourinary injuries are not things we hear about or read about very often. 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.”
There have only been two other attempts at penis transplants in recorded medical history. In 2006, a failed attempt in China took place. Last year, a successful transplant took place in South Africa. The man in South Africa has since become a biological father.
While the surgery is still considered to be experimental, doctors at Johns Hopkins are planning to perform 60 such transplants. The transplanted penises will be harvested from deceased young men. If the operations are mostly successful, it could become a standard procedure.
Realistically, many of the men are hopeful that they will be able to father their own biological children. Still, there are major risks, including bleeding, infection and the body’s rejection of the new genitals. But even if the operation fails, the men will most likely not be left any worse off than they were before the procedure.
While penises are being transplanted, testicles will not be transplanted. Since sperm is produced by the testicles, any recipient who does impregnate a woman would do so using sperm from his own testes. Therefore, he would be the biological father of any resulting children. However, some of the men lost their testicles in combat as well. These men will not be able to produce sperm or have biological children.
Virtually all of the men who have sustained a serious genital injury have said that it is just as much of a mental injury as it is a physical one. Doctors who treated critically wounded soldiers have said that one of the first questions that a soldier who wakes up from emergency surgery asks is whether or not their genitals are intact.
Another Johns Hopkins reconstructive surgeon Dr. Richard J. Redett said, “If you meet these people, you see how important it is. To be missing the penis and parts of the scrotum is devastating. That part of the body is so strongly associated with your sense of self and identity as a male. These guys have given everything they have.”
Johns Hopkins is planning to pay for the first operation, as the doctors will work out of the kindness of their hearts. From there, the Department of Defense is planning to cover more operations. It is expected that each transplant will cost between $200,000 and $400,000. A standard operation is expected to take about 12 hours.
Needless to say, if all goes as planned, these reconstructive surgeons will be able to profoundly improve the lives for many soldiers who have suffered a devastating injury.