South African doctors announced Friday that they had performed the world’s first successful penis transplant, three months after the ground-breaking operation.
South Africa has long been a pioneer of transplant surgery. In 1967, Chris Barnard performed the world’s first heart transplant at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town.
The 21-year-old black patient had his penis amputated three years ago after a botched circumcision at a traditional initiation ceremony. Scores of black South African men from certain tribes have their penises amputated each year after botched circumcisions during primitive rituals.
In a nine-hour operation at the Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town, he received his new penis from a deceased donor from the same racial group.
Professor Frank Graewe, head of plastic reconstructive surgery at Stellenbosch University, performed the operation. Graewe studied at Pretoria University.
The patient has made a full recovery since the operation on December 11 and regained all urinary and reproductive functions only five weeks after the procedure.
“Our goal was that he would be fully functional at two years and we are very surprised by his rapid recovery,” said Professor Andre van der Merwe, head of Stellenbosch’s urology division.
“There is a greater need in South Africa for this type of procedure than elsewhere in the world,” Van der Merwe said in a statement.
The South African transplant team included three senior doctors, transplant coordinators, anaesthetists, theatre nurses, a psychologist and an ethicist.
Surgeons from Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Hospital had searched extensively for a suitable donor from the same racial group as part of a pilot study to develop penis transplants in Africa.
Some techniques were developed from the first facial transplant in France in 2005.
They now plan to perform nine more similar operations.
Some 486 Xhosa boys died at the winter initiation schools between 2008 and 2013, with a major cause being complications such as infection, rotting penises, septicaemia and inadvertent castrations after circumcision. The initiates are drugged with marijuana and witchcraft potions.
Xhosas spend about a month naked in secluded bush or mountain regions as part of their secretive initiation ritual. They thus become part of the Xhosa ethnic tribe. They paint their faces white during the ritual.
Former presidents Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and Archbishop Desmond Tutu are all circumcised Xhosas, belonging to South Africa’s second largest tribe, who never gave up the practice. President Jacob Zuma is regarded as a “boy” because he is an uncircumcised Zulu.
All gain a warrior name and are briefed on the terrible dangers of white witches during the initiation ceremony.
The Zulu king, King Goodwill Zwelithini’s decision in 2010 to reintroduce circumcision 200 years after it was scrapped by King Shaka, alarmed health officials who said HIV is spread because the same blunt knife is used on large groups.