It’s a guy’s worst nightmare: losing his penis.
Unfortunately, it happens to some men. In Kenya, a few hundred young men lose their penises each year. This is because a traditional coming-of-age ritual for 18-year-old men includes a ritual circumcision, which may not always be done properly. Penises may become severely infected, threatening the man’s life, or may heal improperly, leaving him with a malfunctioning penis. Sometimes, amputating the penis is the only option to save the young man’s life.
Men can lose their penises in other ways too, including penile cancer (which is rare, but does exist) or accidents. These can happen anywhere in the world. Most men without a penis would do almost anything to get their penis back. But doctors have had limited options.
For a woman who loses her breasts (for instance, because of breast cancer), breast implants do a pretty great job of getting her body back for her (except, of course, she can’t breastfeed with them). For someone who loses part of a major muscle group (for instance, due to an accident), there are options such as pec implants, calf implants, or butt implants. In all of these cases, the surgery results in a body that looks very close to its natural shape. But a penis needs to do more than just look like a penis. It needs to be functional too.
The best that could be done until recently was to surgically create something sort of like a penis. To do this surgery, a piece of muscle from the man’s forearm or thigh is used, and is connected to the penis’s normal blood supply, then covered in his skin. Sometimes, the “neo-penis” can achieve an erection, although it often needs help from a penile prosthesis. A series of tubes are placed into the new penis, and can be inflated with saline from a bag stored in the abdomen. (Yes, that means he has to turn on a pump during those intimate moments before sex.) It might work okay, but the neo-penis usually didn’t look much like a regular penis.
Now, doctors can do better than that. A 21-year-old man in Kenya who’d lost his penis now has a new donor penis.
The surgical team that gave a Kenyan man a new penis. Source: CNN (http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/13/health/penis-transplant-south-africa/)
Thanks to a generous family, the donor penis was obtained from a brain-dead man (many of his other organs were also donated, to save the lives of others). Obtaining the donor penis was a long process in itself, as it required very careful preservation of many tiny structures.
Then, the donor penis was connected onto the recipient man. This required many hours of microsurgery (surgery done under a microscope), to reconnect tiny nerves and blood vessels. There was a little difficulty getting around the scar tissue where the man’s own penis had been amputated. However, in the end, the surgery was a success.
The man’s doctors thought it would take up to two years before the penis was fully functional. But it happened much faster. After five weeks (!), the patient reported to his doctors that he’d had sex. (Seriously, having sex five weeks after any major surgery would be pretty impressive, but after this? Absolutely incredible.)
It’s not all smooth sailing for the man forever. He’ll need to take medications to prevent his body from rejecting the new penis, most likely for the rest of his life. But there’s no reason to believe the new penis won’t last that long too.
So now there’s new hope for men who’ve lost their penises. Besides the construction of a new penis, there’s now the possibility they could have a transplanted penis, and it may work just as well as the old one. While we can’t say having sex five weeks after the surgery is a good idea for everyone, well…we’re pretty sure most men will be happy whenever it happens.