In a stunning testament to the power of modern medical science, a 21-year-old South African who became the world’s first penis transplant recipient just 10 months ago now looks set to become a father, the world learned on Friday.
The groundbreaking nine-hour operation was performed at the Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town, after the man’s penis was amputated in a circumcision-gone-wrong.
Professor André van der Merwe, who lead the team that conducted the surgery, said news the patient would become a father confirmed the procedure’s success.
“Our goal was that he would be fully functional at two years and we are very surprised by his rapid recovery,” van der Merwe said.
Van der Merwesaid called the the news “a milestone” and was keen for similar operations to be carried out in the future.
The operation was conducted as part of a pilot study by the hospital and the University of Stellenbosch aimed at helping the 250 or so young South African men who lose their penises each year due to botched coming-of-age rituals.
The men, primarily from the Xhosa tribe, celebrate their passage into manhood by shaving their heads and smearing themselves with white clay from head to toe. They lived in special huts away from the community for several weeks, and then undergo ritual circumcision to become a man.
But the practice is exceedingly dangerous. In May 2013 alone, more than 20 youths died after initiation rituals in the northerly Mpumalanga province. The deaths have prompted calls to abandon the outdated and unsafe ritual.
Just a few months later, police made several arrests for murder after an additional 30 young men died due to the rituals in rural Eastern Cape.
The rituals have the potential to injure up to 300 young men across the province in the space of a week, while the most unlucky simply lose their penises.
Professor Merwe sees penis transplants being eventually offered to men who have lost their penis from cancer or even as a last resort for severe erectile dysfunction.
Nine more patients have been lined up to have the operation, and Professor Merwe thinks that he “will transplant again within the next 10 months.”
As the procedure is refined and made more effective it could become one of the most common elective transplant procedures in medicine.
Professor Merwe already receives dozens of emails a week from around the globe seeking to get on the waiting list for a transplant.