SA performs world’s first successful penile transplant

2015-03-14 00:00

A TEAM of surgeons from Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Hospital have performed the first successful penile transplant in the world.

The nine-hour operation took place in December last year in Tygerberg ­Hospital in Bellville, and was only the second time the procedure had been ­attempted but the first time in history that a successful long-term result was achieved.

Faculty of Medicine Dean Professor Jimmy Volmink said South Africa ­remains at the forefront of medical progress.

“This procedure is another excellent example of how medical research, ­technical know-how and patient-centred care can be combined in the quest to relieve human suffering.

“It shows what can be achieved through effective partnerships between academic institutions and government health services.”

The patient, whose identity is being protected for ethical reasons, has made a full recovery and has regained all function in the newly transplanted organ.

The operation was headed by Professor André van der Merwe, head of the university’s Division of Urology. He was assisted by Professor Frank Graewe, head of the Division of Plastic Reconstructive Surgery; Professor Rafique Moosa; transplant co-ordinators; anaesthetists; theatre nurses; a psychologist; an ethicist; and other support staff.

“Our goal was that he would be fully functional at two years and we are very surprised by his rapid recovery,” said Van der Merwe.

“There is a greater need in South ­Africa for this type of procedure than elsewhere in the world, as many young men lose their penises every year due to complications from traditional ­circumcision.”

Three years ago, the 21-year-old ­recipient’s penis had to be amputated in order to save his life after severe ­complications arose from a traditional circumcision. One study has reported up to 55 cases of penile amputations in the Eastern Cape alone, and experts ­estimate as many as 250 amputations per year across the country.

“This is a very serious situation. For a young man of 18 or 19 years the loss of his penis can be deeply traumatic. He doesn’t necessarily have the psychological capability to process this. There are even reports of suicide among these young men,” said Van der Merwe.

This procedure is expected to ­eventually become successful on male patients who have lost their penises from penile cancer or as a last-resort treatment for severe erectile dysfunction due to medication side effects.

Nine more men are expected to undergo this ground-breaking operation.

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