On today’s show, for the first time ever on TV, the first American to have a penis transplant and his lead surgeons came together to discuss this revolutionary procedure. Thomas Manning had the operation in May of 2016 at Massachusetts General Hospital and what has surprised his doctors, Dr. Curtis Cetrulo, a plastic surgeon, and Dr. Dicken Ko, a urologist, the most is not how successful the procedure seems to be, but how open to talking about it Mr. Manning has been. Today’s show was no exception. When Mr. Manning sat down with Dr. Oz he was clearly nervous but also brutally honest about what his life has been like since he lost his penis to cancer in 2012 and how he thinks the transplant will change his life.
While Mr. Manning is the first man in the U.S. to get a penis transplant, his openness may help change the world for many other men who have been suffering in silence. There are actually thousands of men walking around with the “hidden disease” of genital amputation. In fact, each year there are about 2,000 men diagnosed, like Mr. Manning, with penile cancer, and from 2001 to 2013, 1,367 U.S. servicemen in the Middle East suffered a genital injury.
This type of physically and psychologically destructive injury is more common today for men serving in the military than in the past, because of the way war has changed. Improvements in body-armor technology and battlefield medicine mean our soldiers are now less likely to die in the combat zone from devastating vascular injuries to the chest or abdomen. Unfortunately though, many now have to live with devastating blast injuries to the areas not covered by modern armor including the extremities, face, and the pelvic region that can be severely damaged when a soldier steps on a bomb. For these young troops, many either unmarried or with young families, genital injury is demoralizing and can mean permanent urine bags or tubes, the risk of chronic urinary tract infections, and the loss of sexual function and self-esteem.
It is both these wounded warriors as well as cancer survivors who motivated the lead surgeons to spend close to four years developing the life-altering procedure they performed on Mr. Manning.
Traditionally, transplants have been performed to save people from dying. We have now entered an era of medicine where saving lives is no longer simply about living and dying, but instead is about doing everything we can to ensure the highest quality of life. The penis transplant procedure is different than a transplant of the kidney, lung, or even liver, because it involves connecting multiple types of tissue including vasculature as well as muscles, nerves, and connective tissue. This type of transplant is called a vascularized composite allograft (VCA) and is more similar to a face or hand transplant than a traditional organ transplant. While the penis transplant is an important breakthrough for Drs. Cetrulo and Ko, it is just the tip of the iceberg. Much like the tag team of urologist and plastic surgeon that revolutionized transplant surgery back in 1954 by performing the first kidney transplant, this modern team of the same makeup is poised to make the next giant leap forward.
Their next mission is to improve the lives of transplant recipients even further by eliminating the need for antirejection medications. These medications help prevent the body’s immune system from rejecting the foreign organ, but require constant vigilance and can have unpleasant side effects. Mr. Manning currently takes conventional immunosuppression consisting of three medications to keep his body from rejecting the new organ, but his doctors hope that future transplant recipients of all forms will not have to take them. In turn, patients with organ failure, leukemia, bone marrow failure, and even kids with congenital defects such as absent arms or severe malformations may be given a new lease of life through reconstructive transplantation. The potential to affect so many unfortunate patients is unbelievable.
Drs. Cetrulo and Ko estimate that at the current rate, they are a number of years away from fulfilling their vision. To get there, their unique and innovative labs are working with scientists from all over the world. One of the biggest challenges of this research is that there are currently very few VCA procedures each year (about two to five) and so it is difficult to conduct and fund the research. The doctors are hopeful that the attention given to this latest form of transplantation will provide a needed boost to their research budgets so that they can more quickly make transplants without antirejection medications a reality. To learn more about this work, check out this website.
Finally, just as important as the doctors who did the transplant and Mr. Manning who was brave enough to receive the experimental treatment is the anonymous donor who made this procedure possible. Unfortunately only 40 percent of Americans are registered organ donors, and there are 121,000 people on the waitlist for organs. That’s why this year, our friends at HealthCorps are working to get more people registered. To learn how you can save lives, check out HealthCorps’ organ donation website.