Having a vagina is something most women just take for granted, never even considering how some girls are born without one.
Jucilene Marinho from Brazil was understandably devastated when – at the age of 15 – she learned she had been born without a vagina, cervix, uterus or ovaries due to a rare condition known as Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome.
Despite going through a ‘normal’ puberty – even experiencing menstrual cramps – Jucilene did not begin to have periods as was expected.
After being examined by doctors, it was found the only thing behind the skin blocking her vaginal opening was connective tissue. Jucilene was distraught as she realised her dreams of giving birth to her own child would never come to pass.
Jucilene recalled the moment she found out the shocking truth:
I cried a lot when I found out, I thought my world had ended. I’d always dreamed of having a baby of my own now I had to accept that wouldn’t be possible.
Jucilene became severely depressed following her diagnosis, believing her condition would stop her from ever knowing love.
Her confidence dipped further when a teenage boyfriend was cruel to her and ended the relationship after discovering she had MRKH.
However, now a 24-year-old university student, Jucilene is enjoying being intimate within a supportive relationship, all thanks to her brand new vagina.
Last year, Jucilene became one of the very first women in the world to undergo an innovative surgical procedure; after Federal University of Ceara surgeons built her a vagina using tilapia fish skin.
The skin was first cleaned, sterilised and exposed to virus killing radiation. The fishy odour and scales were removed completely; leaving behind a lightly coloured gel substance.
This impossibly clever operation – known as neovaginoplasty – involved creating a vaginal opening and inserting a tubular mould lined with the prepared tilapia skin.
Remarkably, her body then absorbed the fish skin, transforming it into vaginal tract tissue; stimulating cellular growth and blood vessel formation.
Tilapia skin is known to be strong and resilient, with plenty of moisture and collagen type 1, a protein that encourages healing. It has previously been used to successfully treat patients suffering from severe burns.
Neovaginoplasty is a less invasive alternative to the traditional method of using groin grafts to craft a vaginal canal. There is also a faster healing time, lower risk of infection and less visible scarring.
Wow! Doctors apply fish skin to gas explosion victim’s second-degree burns! pic.twitter.com/70YHSDzIQK
— Medical Terms (@MedicaITerms) May 24, 2018
After a three-month-long recuperation period, the life-changing operation was a success. A very happy Jucilene was finally able to lose her virginity to her boyfriend, 24-year-old Marcus Santos, who has been by her side throughout the recovery process.
At first I was very scared to do it because I thought it would hurt and I was worried it might damage the opening.
I didn’t feel any discomfort and there was no bleeding.
Everything felt sensitive in what I’m told is the right and normal way. It was perfectly natural like the opening had always been there.
It felt so good to have something the majority of women take for granted.
Modern science is incredible.
— Dadbod Don (@luckyturner) June 4, 2018
— MahaReincess Priebus (@MahaReincess) June 4, 2018
What an extraordinary medical breakthrough. This news will surely bring hope to other women suffering from MRKH.
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Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.