Thomas Manning, the first man in the US to receive a penis transplant. (image: Massachusetts General Hospital)

A 64-year-old man who lost his penis to cancer is the nation’s first recipient of a penis transplant. The experimental procedure is poised to help thousands of men who have lost their genitals to disease, accident, or combat.

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Thomas Manning, a bank courier from Massachusetts, is the first man in the United States to receive a genitourinary reconstructive (penile) transplant. The 15-hour procedure, which involved a dozen surgeons and another 30 health care workers, occurred on May 8 and 9 at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Manning is currently recovering in hospital and doing well. The organ was received from a deceased donor.

For the procedure, a surgical team led by reconstructive surgeon Dr. Curtis L. Cetrulo grafted the complex microscopic vascular and neural structures of a donated penis onto Manning’s matching structures. Normal blood flow has been restored, and there are no signs of bleeding, rejection, or infection. If all goes according to plan, Manning should experience normal urination in a few weeks, and sexual function in a few months.

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“We are hopeful that these reconstructive techniques will allow us to alleviate the suffering and despair of those who have experienced devastating genitourinary injuries and are often so despondent they consider taking their own lives,” said Cetrulo in a statement. “The entire transplant team has worked tirelessly to ensure that our patient is on the path to recovery, thanks in part to the gift of organ donation.”

Indeed, men who have lost their genitalia feel that a critical part of their self-identity and manhood have been lost.

“I want to go back to being who I was,” noted Manning a New York Times article. “I couldn’t have a relationship with anybody. You can’t tell a woman, ‘I had a penis amputation.’”

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Manning is happy to talk about the groundbreaking procedure, and he’s hoping that by doing so, he’ll help to lessen the shame and stigma associated with genital cancers and injuries. At the same time, he hopes this new surgery will offer hope to men with similar issues.

The surgery—which took over three years to develop—is part of a collaborative research program to help combat veterans with severe pelvic injuries. From 2001 to 2013, over 1,300 men in the U.S. military suffered genitourinary injuries (as they’re called) often caused by improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Penis transplants will also apply to patients who have lost their genitalia owing to accidents or disease.

The surgery cost about $50,000 to $75,000, an expense that’s being absorbed by Massachusetts General Hospital and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, an institution that’s also planning to perform penis transplants in the near future.

Only two other penis transplants have ever been attempted, a failed one in China in 2006 and a successful one in South Africa in 2014, in which the patient later able to father a child.

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Manning says he’s doing well and not experiencing any pain.

“If I’m lucky, I get 75 percent of what I used to be,” he told the Times. “Before the surgery I was 10 percent. But they made no promises. That was part of the deal.”

[New York Times, Massachusetts General Hospital]