Doctors in South Africa have performed the world’s first successful penis transplant on a 21-year-old man who lost his penis after a botched circumcision. Although the surgery has been previously attempted, this is the first time that surgeons have seen a full recovery and lasting function.

The nine-hour-long operation was led by Dr. André van der Merwe and performed at Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town in December, according to a Stellenbosch University press release. Now, three months later, the University announced that the unidentified patient has made a full recovery and has regained function of the newly transplanted organ.

"Our goal was that he would be fully functional at two years, and we are very surprised by his rapid recovery," Van der Merwe said in the press release. "The end result of the transplant was the restoration of all the patient's urinary and reproductive functions."

The young man suffered devastating injuries sustained during a ritual circumcision and needed to have his entire penis amputated in order to save his life. Complete penile amputations like the patient's are unfortunately common in South Africa due to the circumcision tradition, and can run upward of 200 in a single year. The consequences of losing such an important organ can be devastating for young men, with some unable to cope with the psychological loss and resorting to suicide, Van der Merwe explained.

Medically speaking, the operation itself is not very complicated. The South African team used a similar technique to that done on face transplants, using microscopic surgery to connect small blood vessels and nerves. It’s the lengthy recovery period, however, that can prove difficult. 

The first recorded case of a penile transplant occurred in China on a 44-year-old man who refused to explain how he lost the organ. Although the operation was successful overall, only two weeks following the surgery, the man asked that his transplant be removed due to his wife's severe rejection.

The South African case, though, may hopefully set a precedent for more successful future operations. The transplant is available to men who have lost their penises to accidents and cancers, and can even be used as a long-term solution for cases of severe erectile dysfunction, Sky News reported.

"It's a massive breakthrough. We've proved that it can be done — we can give someone an organ that is just as good as the one that he had," Professor Frank Graewe, who assisted in the operation, explained in the press release.