Johns Hopkins surgeons plan first U.S. penis transplant

Doctors aim to help wounded servicemen regain sexual function

Doctors at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine are planning the first penis transplant in the United States, and the operation could take place within a few months, the New York Times reports. The transplant procedure would allow military servicemen who have suffered injuries to their genitals, called genitourinary injuries, to regain function. The surgeons plan to perform 60 operations and closely monitor the results to judge whether the surgery can become a standard treatment.

"These genitourinary injuries are not things we hear about or read about very often," W.P. Andrew Lee, chairman of plastic and reconstructive surgery at the School of Medicine, told the Times. "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."

Patients eligible for the surgery must have certain nerves and blood vessels in their pelvis intact. These nerves and blood vessels, as well as the urethra, are attached to a donor organ, which can be obtained only through special permission by the donor's family. The patient's nerves then grow at the rate of about one inch per month, gradually rebuilding sensation and, hopefully, restoring full sexual function.

"Some [patients] hope to father children," Lee says. "I think that is a realistic goal."

Only two penis transplants have been reported in medical journals. One, in China, was unsuccessful, but the other, in South Africa, led to the patient eventually fathering his own biological child.

The surgery has the potential to restore not only physical health, but also, and perhaps most importantly, mental health.

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Some doctors have criticized the idea of penis transplants, saying they are not needed to save the patient's life. But Dr. Richard J. Redett, director of pediatric plastic and reconstructive surgery at Johns Hopkins, said, "If you meet these people, you see how important it is."

"To be missing the penis and parts of the scrotum is devastating," Dr. Redett said. "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."

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