A group of injured soldiers are set to undergo America’s first penis transplants.
Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore has given permission for doctors there to perform 60 of the groundbreaking surgeries, the first of which will likely happen within a year or within just a few months, the New York Times reports.
Only two other penis transplants have been attempted. A surgery in China in 2006 ended in failure, while a successful transplant was completed in South Africa last year.
The experimental procedures will initially focus on helping some of the 1,367 military servicemen who suffered wounded genitals in Iraq or Afghanistan between 2001 and 2013.
The goal is to restore both the aesthetic of intact genitals and their function. According to the team of doctors leading the charge, the restoration of sexual function is possible.
During the 12-hour operation, surgeons will connect nerves, veins and arteries under a microscope. The urethra must also be connected to the donated organ.
According to Dr. W.P. Andrew Lee, urinary function will return within weeks. Sexual function will take months as nerves slowly connected to the organ.
Doctors will have to ask special permission from deceased donors' families to take the penis, just as they've done with hand and face donation.
Ideally, donors will be young men in order to increase the likelihood that sexual function will be restored.
Recipients will have to remain on immune suppressing medication for the rest of their lives to prevent rejection.
While there are side effects of the drugs, including an increased risk of cancer, the doctors spearheading this groundbreaking work say it's worth it to the young soldiers whose lives were torn apart during their service.
“These genitourinary injuries are not things we hear about or read about very often,” said Dr. Lee told the Times. “I think one would agree it is as devastating as anything that our wounded warriors suffer, for a young man to come home in his early 20s with the pelvic area completely destroyed.”