A U.S. soldier wounded in an explosion will be the first person in the United States to receive a penis transplant, doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital said, which could open the way for about 60 other servicemen with genital injuries to have this surgery.
Surgeons hope a donated organ from a recently deceased man will provide full function including urination, sensation and sex. The surgery requires joining nerves and blood vessels under a microscope.
Doctors and advocates who work with wounded soldiers note that the loss of the penis is one of the most emotionally traumatic injuries because it affects a sense of identity and manhood, especially for men hoping to become fathers.
"When you meet these guys and you realize what they've given for the country, it makes a lot of sense," Dr. Richard Redett, a plastic surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital who will help perform the operation, told Reuters.
The recipient, who was not identified, lost most of his penis and had substantial groin injuries in a bomb explosion while deployed overseas. Media reports have said he was wounded in Afghanistan.
The surgery could occur in the coming weeks. Doctors are looking for a donor who is a good match in terms of age and skin color. The donor's family will need to give permission for the penis to be removed.
There have been two penis transplants in the world. The first in China in 2006 was unsuccessful. The second in South Africa in 2014 was a success.
Thor Wold, who served as a Marine medic in the Iraq war and now works as an advocate for veterans, said that after suffering genital injuries servicemen immediately wanted to know if they would still have sexual function.
"They would ask, 'Is everything OK down there, doc? My wife's at home and we're trying to have a baby when I get back,'" Wold told Reuters.
Redett said a veteran suffering from a blast injury could need to have not just his penis replaced but also the scrotum, part of the abdominal wall, groin tissue and part of the inner thigh.
"We've sorted out how to take that block of tissue from a donor and give it to a recipient," he said.
The penis transplant does not involve the testes, where sperm are produced, so if a man with a transplanted penis does father a child, the baby would be his genetic offspring, not the donor's.
While for now only wounded veterans are being considered for penis transplants, the surgery could eventually be performed on men with birth defects and transgender men and women.