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South African team performs second successful penis transplant

The surgery was performed on a 40-year-old man who lost his penis 17 years earlier due to complications from a traditional circumcision.

By Amy Wallace

May 22 (UPI) -- Doctors at a hospital in South Africa have performed their second successful penis transplant, making them the first facility to perform two of the complicated operations.

The team from Stellenbosch University, or SU, and the Tygerberg Academic Hospital performed the marathon nine-and-a-half-hour surgery on April 21 at Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa, marking the second successful penis transplant surgery at the facility. The first successful penis transplant happened in December of 2014 when a 21-year-old male received a donor penis after losing his in a ritualistic circumcision.

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The second successful penis transplant in the world was performed in May 2016 at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

"Patients describe a penis transplant as 'receiving a new life,'" Dr. Amir Zarrabi of SU's Faculty of Medicine and Health Services, or FMHS, Division of Urology, said in a press release. "For these men the penis defines manhood and the loss of this organ causes tremendous emotional and psychological distress. I usually see cases of partial or total amputations in July and December -- the period when traditional circumcisions are performed."

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Penile mutilation is more common in South Africa than elsewhere in the world due to complications of circumcisions performed as part of a traditional rite of passage on young men in certain cultures. Experts estimate that as many as 250 partial and total amputations take place countrywide every year, with suicides also reported.

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"We are thrilled on behalf of the patient and the change it will make in his life," said Dr. Alexander Zuhlke, head of the FMHS Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. "It is also a great achievement to be part of the team that has performed two successful penis transplants."

Organ donation is one of the main challenges doctors face in penis transplant surgery.

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"I think the lack of penis transplants across the world since we performed the first one in 2014, is mostly due to a lack of donors," said Andre van der Merwe, heard of the Division of Urology at FMHS. "It might be easier to donate organs that you cannot see, like a kidney, than something like a hand or a penis."

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