If you have the New York Times’ app on your phone, you may have been awoken this morning by an urgent push notification that demanded your immediate attention. But unlike an Amber Alert or a new study about how the world is coming to an end at an even quicker pace than we’d imagined — way too much for a Monday, right? — this story was considerably happier. At least it was for the man at its center — a cancer survivor who just received the first successful penis transplant in the United States.
Meet Thomas Manning, a 64-year-old bank courier who lost his penis to cancer and just underwent a highly experimental procedure that involved more than 15 hours of surgery to give him a functioning penis — something that doctors are calling “lifesaving” on the whole due to the psychological benefits such a transplant can have. Manning who is overjoyed by the success said that for him it was all about “going back to who I was.” Doctors are hoping he’ll be able to urinate in several weeks and then gain sexual use of his genitals some time after that. If all goes well, this could be a big step in helping others who have suffered similar fates, especially veterans.
Veterans are a major focus of transplant programs in the United States because suicide rates are exceptionally high in soldiers with severe damage to the genitals and urinary tract, Dr. Cetrulo said. “They’re 18- to 20-year-old guys, and they feel they have no hope of intimacy or a sexual life,” he said. “They can’t even go to the bathroom standing up.”
Testing the program on civilians such as Manning will also be a big step forward in helping those who are or have been in the military:
Dr. Cetrulo said the team would most likely perfect its techniques on civilian patients and then move on to injured veterans. It will also train military surgeons to perform the transplants. The Department of Defense, he said in an email, “does not like to have wounded warriors undergo unproven techniques — i.e., they do not want them to be ‘guinea pigs,’ as they have already sacrificed so much.”
Manning is one of only a small number of people who have had their genitals returned to them via the powers of modern medicine. The first true successful transplant occurred in South Africa in 2015. An earlier attempt, in 2006, ended in failure when the recipient and his wife could not deal with the psychological consequences of him living with the penis of a deceased man. In 2015, John Hopkins University announced plans to perform penile transplants on up to 60 people who had lost their genitals in combat, so it’s likely we’ll be hearing more and more stories of men receiving successful transplants in the near future. Until then, implants are still a viable possibility for many.
Manning told the Times that men in his situation should seek help if they can. “Don’t hide behind a rock,” he said.