Penis-Transplant Doctor on Patient: 'Life Was Just Hell'

Dr. Andre van der Merwe says patient's life was 'just hell'
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 9, 2015 10:45 AM CDT
Pioneering Penis-Transplant Doctor Tells His Story
The transplant team.   (Stellenbosch University)

Last month brought the announcement that surgeons in South Africa had not only successfully transplanted a penis in December, but that it was working properly in every way well ahead of schedule. Dr. Andre van der Merwe was the man at the helm of the operation, which involved a 21-year-old whose penis was amputated following a botched ritual circumcision three years prior, reports the Guardian. In an interview with South Africa's Times, van der Merwe explains that he actually backed out of attempting the procedure four times due to "resistance from inside the transplant fraternity." He obviously eventually went ahead, and in an interview with New York magazine, he shares more about the patient, whose "life was just hell" before the transplant. "Him and a lot of the others [who found themselves mutilated after a botched circumcision ceremony] had gangrene of the penis and it became infected. So they have varying degrees of kidney failure."

Just surviving such an ordeal, he explains, can be tough. But his patient is more than surviving: Though van der Merwe says he expected sex to be viable in about two years (the amount of time it takes a man who has had his penis severed and then reattached to regain all function), the patient had sex far, far earlier. "Intercourse at five weeks was really scary," van der Merwe tells the magazine, "because I didn't think there was a way that his body could have healed completely at the suture line. ... But everything seems to be fine." He sees the surgery as a viable option for men who have penis amputations due to cancer ("not as uncommon as you may think"), though there is some challenge in getting families to agree to donate a dead relative's member. Though he told the Times someone volunteered to donate his as part of his quest to be genderless, the doctor says he'd be too wary of such a donor later changing his mind and "[hunting] down the person who has his penis or something." More on the surgery here. (More penis stories.)

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