A US army veteran who underwent a penis transplant has described it as the ‘best decision’ he has ever made.
The soldier, known only as Ray, lost both his legs, his genitals and part of his abdominal wall after being injured in an explosion in Afghanistan in 2010.
Ray, who is now in his thirties, had been caring for soldiers who had been wounded during a Taliban ambush when he accidentally stepped on a roadside bomb.
This devastating accident had a life-changing impact for Ray, who experienced suicidal thoughts as a result of his trauma. He kept the loss of his genitals private, telling only those closest to him.
Recalling the incident during an interview with the MIT Technology Review, Ray said:
I remember thinking a quick thought: ‘This isn’t good’. And then I was on my back.
It was one of those injuries that really stresses you out and you think, ‘Why would I keep going?’ I guess I always just kept this real hope that there’s an answer out there.
The initial treatment option offered to Ray was phalloplasty reconstruction, which which involve surgeons taking a rolled tube of tissue, blood vessels, and nerves from his forearm or thigh which would then be transplanted to his groin.
Phalloplasty reconstruction might have allowed Ray some erotic sensation, and would have required the use of a pump for him to get an erection or to have sex.
However, plastic surgeon Richard Redett – from Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Hospital – decided Ray could make a good candidate for a penile transplant; a far more complex procedure which involves grafting the penis of a deceased individual onto the groin of a live patient.
And so, eight years after the explosion, a suitable donor was found for Ray. A team at Johns Hopkins operated on him for 14 hours; painstakingly stitching together vessels ‘smaller than a human hair’.
This procedure was the most extensive penis transplant in medical history, marking the very first time a medical team had performed a total penis and scrotum transplant. Ray was the fourth man to have this transplant, and the very first injured veteran to benefit.
A year and a half after the pioneering surgery, Ray is delighted with his new penis. He is able to achieve an erection, and experiences sensation.
How difficult is it to perform a penis transplant? A kidney transplant usually takes three hours. The first penis transplant surgery in 2014 took nine. Ray’s was the most complex to date: it took his surgical team, led by Johns Hopkins’ Richard Reddett FOURTEEN HOURS. pic.twitter.com/3gf6sFu9YD
— Bobbie Johnson (@bobbie) October 14, 2019
Ray told MIT Technology Review:
I’m still getting sensation back. It’s pretty close,
This is not going to be a quick fix, but I’ve seen improvement over time.
I don’t regret it, It was one of the best decisions I ever made.
As reported by MIT Technology Review, 1,367 American infantrymen suffered substantial genital injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan between the years 2001 and 2013. Among these, 502 had injuries so grave that a penis transplant could well be their only option.
If you’re experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They’re open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year.
Their national number is 0800 58 58 58, and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone.
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.