It's a medical first. (Bigstock)

In a nine-hour surgery, a South African medical team successfully transplanted the penis of a dead donor to a young man without one. Three months later, they say, the recipient, who lost his penis because of complications from a ritual circumcision, has a totally functional sexual organ. That makes him the first successful recipient of a donated penis.

News24 Live's Jerusha Sukhdeo-Raath did some live tweeting from Friday's press briefing on the historic surgery:

Yes, you read that right: To get the approval of the donor's family, doctors had to fashion a pseudo-penis for him out of abdominal skin. That way he could be buried with something resembling a penis.

[Lab grown penises are on the horizon, scientists say]

It's no small thing to reattach any organ, and sexual organs have added psychological implications. If the function (both urinary and sexual) and appearance aren't just right, the recipient has to deal with the implications of having a troublesome foreign object where his penis should be.

Even if everything is working physically, the psychological trauma can sometimes be too much to bear. That's what happened to the Chinese patient who could have been the first successful recipient: In 2006, 10 days after a physically successful surgery, the man asked doctors to remove his new organ.

[The military has high hopes for face transplants]

But the unnamed 21-year-old in Cape Town, who lost his penis three years ago, is delighted, according to his surgical team.

“Our goal was that he would be fully functional at two years, and we are very surprised by his rapid recovery,” Andre van der Merwe, head of Stellenbosch University's Division of Urology and head of the surgical team, told Bloomberg.

He explained that South Africa has a greater need for penis transplants than most of the world. Young men who are members of the Xhosa people often undergo ritual circumcision, sometimes in rural areas without proper instruments or sterilization. Complications from this practice lead to an estimated 250 penile amputations each year.

Now that the team has shown such impressive long-term success in one patient, they have another nine on deck to receive donated organs in the near future.

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