A breakthrough technique with great potential.
Representing an important step toward making sexual restoration surgery both safe and commonplace, doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston have performed the country’s first penis transplant.
64-year-old Thomas Manning, who lost his genitalia to an extremely rare form of cancer, underwent the 15-hour operation in May.
As previously reported, the operation was spearheaded by physicians at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore with a goal of restoring at least partial sexual function to wounded veterans.
It was decided, however, to instead begin performing the still-experimental techniques on civilians.
Dr. Curtis L. Cetrulo, who headed the Massachusetts General Hospital operating team, told the New York Times that operating on patients like Manning as opposed to first attempting the procedure with veterans was done out of respect for the injured soldiers:
“[The Department of Defense] does not like to have wounded warriors undergo unproven techniques—i.e., they do not want them to be ‘guinea pigs,’ as they have already sacrificed so much.”
A new technique
Manning’s operation was the third attempt at a penis transplant. The first, performed in 2004, was successful—the patient eventually fathered a child—however the second, which took place in 2006 in China, was not.
Requiring the skills of seven surgeons, and a large support staff, the procedure required the delicate reconnecting of Manning’s arteries, veins, and even nerves—which, if all goes well, may grant a degree of sensitivity.
As it is still an experimental operation, it is estimated to cost between $50,000 and $70,000, though Johns Hopkins as well as Massachusetts General Hospital—and even the physicians involved—are donating their services free of charge.
Dr. Cetrulo, again speaking to the New York Times, said that they are hopeful that Manning will regain some sexual ability and normal urination after some months.
Manning, meanwhile, will have to be careful to avoid infection and will have to take anti-rejection medication for the rest of his life.
The family of the donated organ, acquired from the New England Organ Bank, has requested anonymity but has also expressed pleasure at the success of Manning’s operation.
Importance of being known
Manning’s operation touches on a much larger issue, one that could very well mean further advances in these types of procedures: one of visibility.
Being open about his life, his cancer struggle, and even his fears, hopes, and dreams is important to Manning. “Don’t hide behind a rock,” he said during an interview.
Talking about the loss of his sex and love life after the removal of his original penis, he said, “I wouldn’t go near anybody. I couldn’t have a relationship with anybody. You can’t tell a woman, ‘I had a penis amputation.’”
While some recommended he not be so public about the operation, Manning rejected staying quiet: “I didn’t advertise, but if people asked, I told them the truth.”
As Manning’s operation is only the third such attempt, it’s difficult to predict both the long and short-term effects. The next transplant patient, who lost his original sexual function in a car crash and fire, is set for surgery, the only current impediment being a suitable donor.
While using similar techniques for sex reassignment surgery is not yet being pursued, it’s natural to project that as these procedures become more and more common that they will be expanded to cover individuals with gender dysphoria.
Meanwhile, the focus will be on expanding civilian trials with an aim of eventually giving hope to those who have returned from combat with genital injuries. “They’re 18- to 20-year-old guys, and they feel they have no hope of intimacy or a sexual life,” Cetrulo told the New York Times.
Demonstrating the positive effect of these types of operations, Manning said: “If I’m lucky, I get 75%of what I used to be. Before the surgery I was 10%.”
Though he also remains realistic: “But they made no promises. That was part of the deal.”
Image source: ABC News