Hands, faces and a penis: Monumental transplants from recent history in Baltimore and beyond

Doctors at Johns Hopkins recently performed the world’s first transplant of a penis, scrotum and part of an abdominal wall on a wounded soldier.

There have been 8,509 transplants from January to March of this year nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The most common procedures are kidney and liver transplants, followed by heart transplants. However, doctors in Baltimore and elsewhere have successfully transplanted other body parts from deceased donors to living candidates.

In 2013, the Hopkins team performed a double arm transplant on Brendan Marrocco, who lost both of his arms, as well as his legs, in the Iraq War when the armored vehicle he was driving ran over a bomb in 2009.

In January of this year, a Frenchman became the first person to receive a second face transplant. Jerome Hamon received his first face transplant in 2010, but it needed to be removed last year after Hamon became ill.

Hamon's first face was donated by a 60-year-old. With his second transplanted face – from a 22 year-old donor – Hamon, 43, joked that he managed to drop a few decades.

France was also the first country to be site of a face transplant. The procedure has since been performed several times in Baltimore.

In 2012, doctors at the University of Maryland performed the most extensive face transplant at the time on a Virginia man named Richard Lee Norris.

Norris received donor skin from his scalp to his neck, as well as a new jaw, teeth, tongue and the underlying muscle and tissue. In addition to matching his blood type, doctors had to match his skin color and bone structure to a donor.

The University of Maryland has pioneered other transplant surgeries as well. In 2016, doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center were able to perform a kidney transplant on a patient with no need for dialysis — a feat they said was the first type of procedure in the country.

Hopkins has never been far behind. Also in 2016, Hopkins doctors performed the nation's first liver and kidney transplants from a donor infected with HIV to recipients also infected with the virus.

It was a triumph for one of the transplant surgeons, Dorry L. Segev, who fought for six years for federal approval of the life-saving surgery.

Hayley Gorenberg, deputy legal director for Lambda Legal, a civil rights organization that serves the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities and people with HIV, called the transplants a "triumph of science over stigma."

In July 2015, an 8-year-old boy from Owings Mills became the first child to receive a bilateral hand transplant. Doctors at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia meticulously took the hands and forearms from the donor and attached them to the limbs of Zion Harvey, connecting bone, blood vessels, nerves, muscles, tendons and skin.

Some territory remains uncharted in the field of organ transplantation. Italian Dr. Sergio Canavero visited Annapolis in 2015 to speak about his ambition to conduct the world’s first head transplant. The controversial surgeon suggested that, contrary to accepted modern medicine, it's possible to repair a severed spine.

Some weren’t so sure.

"There was not much science in his talk," said Dr. Dinesh Ranjan, a transplant surgeon from Lexington, Ky. "This is something that may happen, but not by him.”

ctkacik@baltsun.com

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