It’s every man’s worst nightmare: the thought of somehow losing his genitals.
Even though for most it’s just a scary idea, for many it’s actually a reality . According to numbers from the Joint Theater Trauma Registry, 816 men serving in the U.S. military between 2001-2008 sustained injuries to their genitals while stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan. With such a staggering number in need of medical attention, it’s no wonder surgeons from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine are set to perform America’s very first penis transplant.
The procedure is pretty new to the medical world. Only two other penis transplants have been reported in medical journals. There was a failed case in China in 2006 and a successful one in South Africa last year, meaning the operation in the U.S. will be the world’s third official attempt at it.
Despite that, surgeons with Johns Hopkins University are very optimistic, saying they expect the new penis to start working in a matter of months. It will develop urinary function and, yes, even the ability to have sex (eventually). Because only the penis is transplanted and not the testicles, a person who manages to father a child post-op would still have that genetic, biological link to the baby.
Penises, for the record, don’t actually require a transplant. They can actually be created from tissue taken from other parts of the patient’s own body, which is a common operation for transgender men. The reason that procedure can’t work in this case though is because erections aren’t possible without an additional implant. And since, in some cases, there’s so little penis left to be repaired or constructed, doctors say a transplant is the best way to go.
So how does the procedure actually work?
Once doctors have their penis (from a deceased donor, of course), surgeons will work to reattach major nerves and blood vessels under a microscope. After it has been successfully attached, a catheter is temporarily left in place to drain urine. Men who undergo the operation will have to take anti-rejection medication for the rest of their lives, but we aren’t expecting any complaints.
For now, the operation is only available for members of the U.S. military. There’s no word on when Canada might consider attempting it.
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