A South African medical team has completed the world's first penis transplant.
Doctors from South Africa's Tygerberg Hospital and Stellenbosch University in Cape Town have performed the first successful penis transplant on a patient whose penis was amputated three years ago after a circumcision ritual gone awry, reports Reuters.
The doctors conducted the nine-hour surgery in December, four years after they began planning for it, according to a press release from the university. To their surprise, the patient, an unnamed 21-year-old, has already gained reproductive and urinary functions.
"Our goal was that he would be fully functional at two years and we are very surprised by his rapid recovery," said Dr. Andre van der Merwe, head of the Division of Urology at the university, in a press release.
The patient was a victim of a botched coming-of-age ritual — a ritual common in South Africa. According to Reuters, these rituals consist of the young men living away from their communities for a few weeks and then returning to be circumcised, usually in a nonclinical setting.
"There is a greater need in South Africa for this type of procedure than elsewhere in the world, as many young men lose their penises every year due to complications from traditional circumcision," Dr. van der Merwe said.
Studies have shown that there could be as many as 250 amputations every year in South Africa as a result of these circumcisions. In May of 2013, arrests were made after 50 young men died after such procedures in two different regions, Reuters reports. But even surviving can be traumatic, with potentially deadly psychological results.
"This is a very serious situation," Dr. van der Merwe said. "For a young man of 18 or 19 years the loss of his penis can be deeply traumatic. He doesn't necessarily have the psychological capability to process this. There are even reports of suicide among these young men."
Nine other men have signed up for the procedure as part of an ongoing study, and doctors said they hope it can be extended to help cancer survivors and severe erectile dysfunction patients.