A veteran whose lower half was blown off in a bomb blast has undergone one of the world’s first penis transplants.
The squaddie, named only as Ray, has hailed the groundbreaking operation “one of the best decisions I ever made”.
He was tending to wounded soldiers under an ambush by Taliban fighters in Afghanistan when an IED detonated beneath him.
The explosion in 2010 took away the US Navy corpsman’s legs above the knee – as well as his genitals, which was the most devastating for him.
In an interview with MIT Technology Review, he said: “I remember everything froze and I was upside down.
“I remember thinking a quick thought: ‘This isn’t good.’ And then I was on my back.”
In 2013, Ray met with a plastic surgeon, Dr Richard Redett of Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, to talk about his options.
Dr Redett said that Ray, who is in his mid-30s and walks with two prosthetic legs, might be an ideal candidate to undergo a groundbreaking penis transplant.
Ray said: “This was actually something that could fix me. I could go back to being normal again.”
Until recently, the only treatment available for men in his situation would have been phalloplasty – a transplant of a makeshift member made of tissue, blood vessels and nerves taken from a forearm or thigh, which requires an external pump to become erect.
A penis transplant is far more complex than other types of organ transplants.
Grafting a donor penis involves many different kinds of tissue, and requires stitching nerves and blood vessels smaller than 2mm wide.
Dr Redett said: “The threads are smaller than a human hair. Unless you’re under a [micro]scope, you can’t really even see it.”
The unnamed war hero received a penis, scrotum and portion of abdominal wall from a dead donor
At the time of their meeting, only one person had undergone such a procedure, and only three patients in the world have since then.
The first rudimentary penis transplant was performed in 2006 on a 44-year-old in China, who reportedly soon had it removed at his wife’s behest.
In 2014, a 21-year-old from Cape Town, South Africa, who suffered gangrene after a botched circumcision underwent a penis transplant.
Next, doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital operated on a 64-year-old man who lost his penis to cancer in 2016.
And in 2017, the same South African doctors from the 2014 transplant did so again on a 41-year-old man who also suffered from a circumcision gone awry.
It took 14 hours for Dr Redett and his team to complete Ray’s procedure in March 2018.
His op involved a transplanted piece of tissue measuring 10ins by 11ins in total and weighing 5lbs.
He said it was “the most complex [penis transplant] to date,” and the first for a military veteran.
Ray, who’d lost the entirety of his reproductive organs, was also given a new scrotum – but not testicles, for ethical reasons involving the donor’s sperm, according to his doctors.
The Technology Review reports that a total of 1,367 Americans in the military suffered major genital injury in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2001 and 2013 — and experts say it’s taking a major toll on veterans’ mental health.
“They’re asking where the testicles and the penis are,” reports the journal.
“You can’t put a number on how significantly this affects one of these wounded warriors’ lives.”
However, some doctors — such as Dr Hiten Patel, a chief resident at the Johns Hopkins Brady Urological Institute — argue the procedure is medically unnecessary.
Dr Patel said a penis transplant “lacks both life-saving and life-enhancing properties when compared to a readily available alternative in phalloplasty.”
Considering an estimated 41 per cent of veterans deployed between 2001 and 2007 were more likely to contemplate suicide, a devastating, lingering trauma like this could mean life or death long after physical recovery.
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