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Eight years ago, while on patrol in Afghanistan, a Navy corpsman and his team encountered a Taliban ambush. Casualties were heavy and Ray scrambled toward a wounded Marine through enemy fire. But Ray’s boot triggered a roadside bomb that blew him into the air.

“I remember everything froze and I was upside down,” he told the MIT Technology Review. “I remember thinking … ‘This isn’t good.’ And then I was on my back.”

Ray – who wishes to remain anonymous – lost both legs above the knee in the blast, but also lost part of his midsection, including his penis, scrotum, and a section of his abdominal wall.

 

It’s the type of injury feared almost more than death.

“There were times you’d be hanging out and guys would be talking about getting hurt, and that’s one of the first things when they get blown up, to check down there, and they would say things like, ‘If I lost mine I’d just kill myself,’” Ray told the New York Times in an interview last year.

“When I would actually think about killing myself, I would think, ‘Am I really just gonna kill myself over a penis?’”

 

Per the Military Times, he’s not the only soldier to feel that way. Army Lt. Col. Timothy Tausch, the director of trauma and male reconstructive urology at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center says it’s a common fear.

“As soon as they wake up, they’re not asking about where their legs are,” he told the MIT Review. “They’re asking where the testicles and the penis are. You can’t put a number on how significantly this affects one of these wounded warriors’ lives.”

 

Ray learned to walk with prosthetic legs, got an apartment and earned a college degree. But relationships or dating felt out of the question.

In 2012, Ray began talking to medical professionals about his options. Richard Redett, a plastic surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore who specializes in genital reconstruction.

Redett initially recommended Ray undergo a phalloplasty, which, according to the MIT Technology Review, involves “a rolled tube of tissue, blood vessels, and nerves taken from the forearm or thigh and transplanted to the groin, an ersatz penis that needs an external pump to get erect.”

But after further consideration, Redett decided to list Ray as a candidate for the first full penis and scrotum transplant ever performed on a military veteran.

 

In March of 2018, Ray got the call that a suitable donor had been found – a recently deceased man of similar age, color and size.

The New York Times says families of organ donors are asked specifically for permission to use the penis, but Carisa M. Cooney, a clinical research manager in plastic and reconstructive surgery at Johns Hopkins, said when families hear the goal is to help wounded veterans, many gladly consent.

In fact, the donor’s family sent the soldier a personal message via New England Donor Services:

“We are all very proud that our loved one was able to help a young man that served this country. We are so thankful to say that our loved one would be proud and honored to know he provided such a special gift to you. As a family, we are very supportive of all the men and women who serve our country and grateful for the job you did for this nation. Please know that this is truly a heartfelt statement, as we have several veterans in the family. We hope you can return to better health very soon and we continue to wish you a speedy recovery.”

A single section was cut from the donor’s lower abdomen, containing skin, muscles, tendons, bone, blood vessels and nerves. It was transported on ice, and a team of nine plastic surgeons and two urological surgeons worked along with support staff on the 14-hour procedure.

Ray’s quality of life has improved enormously. He can urinate standing up, and medications like Testosterone and Cialis have made it possible for him to achieve erectile function.

Dr. Redett said “He told me, which was the best news I could hear, that it feels normal.”

The New York Times reports “Data from the Defense Department show that more than 1,300 men sustained so-called genitourinary injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that 31 percent of those injuries involved the penis.

About 20 percent of the penile injuries were considered severe — but how many might warrant a transplant is not clear.”

 

Only two other penile transplants have been performed worldwide. Ray’s was not only the first operation of its kind on a military veteran, but also the most extensive.

“In the back of your mind, you know this is a transplant, and you wonder if it’s going to be too much for you to handle,” Ray told the MIT Review. “Once I went through with the surgery, all of those concerns just went away.

 

“It was one of the best decisions I ever made.”

We can only imagine.

 

 

 

 

Nine Line is an American Clothing Company with American made Apparel and Accessories- Veteran Owned and Operated

2 Responses

  1. Laurie

    God Bless our soldiers for protecting us and God Bless the men and women who have the intelligence to complete such a miraculous surgery with such a wonderful outcome. Thank you. God Bless this man!!

    Reply

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