NEW YORK — Within a year, maybe in just a few months, a young soldier with a horrific injury from a bomb blast in Afghanistan will have an operation that has never been performed in the United States: a penis transplant.
The organ will come from a deceased donor, and the surgeons, from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, say they expect it to start working in a matter of months, developing urinary function, sensation and, eventually, the ability to have sex.
From 2001 to 2013, 1,367 men in military service sustained wounds to the genitals in Iraq or Afghanistan, according to the Department of Defense Trauma Registry. Nearly all were under 35 years old and were hurt by homemade bombs, commonly called improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, sometimes losing all or part of their penises or testicles.
Missing limbs have become a well-known symbol of these wars, but the genital damage is a hidden wound — and, to many, a far worse one — cloaked in shame, stigma, and embarrassment.
"These genitourinary injuries are not things we hear about or read about very often," said Dr. W. P. Andrew Lee, chairman of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Johns Hopkins. "I think one would agree it is as devastating as anything that our wounded warriors suffer." Lee cautioned that patients should not "think they can regain it all," adding that "some hope to father children. I think that is a realistic goal."