​‘He’s smiling big’: First penis transplant recipient impregnates girlfriend

A South African man who received the world’s first-ever successful penile transplant conceived a baby with his partner just weeks after the operation, to the surprise of his doctors.

“He’s definitely smiling big. He’s proud. He’s also a little bit shy,” said Andre van der Merwe from the University of Stellenbosch, who led the team during the nine-hour procedure last December.

“The pregnancy is not unexpected because this man is having normal intercourse with a partner of quite a few years. But for the recipient, it is a big thing and proof the operation has been a success. I’m happy and I have to thank my whole team.”

Van der Merwe admitted that he did not expect the 21-year-old from Cape Town, whose name has been withheld from the media, to start having intercourse just five weeks after the procedure, nor impregnate his partner so soon. The professor said no paternity tests had been conducted on the child, which is due in November. However, he added that he had “no reason” to question the couple, who are yet to find out the baby’s gender.

Van der Merwe, whose work was conducted in tandem with Cape Town’s Tygerberg Hospital, cautioned that there remained a risk of physical rejection, which would manifest itself primarily as skin lesions.

“But at the moment the skin is fine. There’s no rejection and he’s doing well,” reassured van der Merwe.

His team has been running a research program for the past five years, but the first transplant patient was selected three years ago, when a botched Xhosa adult ritual circumcision resulted in his penis being reduced to just one centimeter.

The first stage had been to prepare the patient for the psychological impact of having an alien extremity attached to his body. A previous penis transplant conducted in China in 2006 went awry, when the patient and his wife felt repelled by the appendage.

The second was to find a donor, with many families refusing to donate their loved ones’ organs, due to superstition. Eventually, a donor was buried with a fake penis fashioned out of abdomen skin, while his real one awaited transplantation.

Van der Merwe said he received requests to perform the same surgery around the world, but noted that the problem remains most urgent in South Africa, where tribal rituals mean that as many as 250 young men are left with non-functioning sexual organs after crudely-performed circumcisions.

The professor stated nine men were still enrolled in his original trial program, and said he hoped to perform his next penile transplant by the end of this year.