SA penis transplant: If you build it, they will come

It took doctors at Stellenbosch University two years to find a donor penis for a young man who lost his own penis during a botched circumcision performed as part of a Xhosa initiation rite.

Speaking to PowerFM’s Tim Modise, Professor Andre van der Merwe, head of the university’s division of urology and a member of the medical team who performed the procedure, said the breakthrough came when doctors realised that the family of a potential organ donor did not want to bury him without a penis – so they fashioned a replacement from his abdominal tissue.

“What one needs to do for these live donors … is that we need to reconstruct a penis for them so that they go to the grave with a penis. That was a breakthrough for me in this project,” said Van Der Merwe.

“We’re sending someone to the grave that looks like a male.”

Doctors at the University of Stellenbosch announced on Friday that they had performed the world’s first successful penis transplant in Cape Town in December year and that the patient now has full use of the organ.

Van Der Merwe said he did not think that getting organ donors would be a problem going forward. There are nine other patients currently awaiting transplants. Instead, the problem is funding.

In addition to the cost of the surgery, patients undergoing the surgery are placed on immune suppressants which cost a further R16,000 a month. This cost however is expected to drop, provided there is no rejection of the organ. Because the surgery was being performed in Africa, it would need to be cost effective, he said.

News of the transplant could bring a lot of hope to young people in South Africa, where hundreds of young Xhosa men undergo traditional circumcisions as part of their tribal customs each year. In 2012 alone, 42 boys died as a result of botched circumcisions were performed by unregulated ‘surgeons’. Five young men had to have their penises amputated due to the extent of their injuries, and 300 more had to be hospitalised.

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– Featured image via Stellenbosch University health sciences department Twitter feed

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