A patient in Massachusetts has received the first penis transplant in the nation. The surgery is still experimental, but it raises hope for those who have had amputations either from cancer or from traumas, including returning veterans.   

Thomas Manning said there’s an obvious reason why he wanted to have this surgery.

“First, because he amputated my penis," he said from his hospital bed. "That’s the first answer. And if you think about it, if you really think about how much sense that makes, that’s the only answer."

The amputation happened four years ago, after Manning found out he had a rare penile cancer. Since then, he kept asking his doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital if a transplant might be possible. Earlier this month, he got his wish. The 64-year-old became the first patient in the U.S. to receive a penis transplant.

“What they’re giving you is a chance," he said. "Some of these operations won’t take. And some of them will. But at least you take a chance."

There have been two similar surgeries– one in South Africa and one in China. The patient in the Chinese surgery wound up rejecting the transplant. But surgeons at Massachusetts General Hospital say they felt confident they could do it because of their success with a complicated hand transplant four years ago. Lead surgeon Dr. Dicken Ko says they had three goals with the surgery.

“Reconstruct a natural appearing external genitalia. Number two, to establish urinary function and continuity of the urinary tract. And three, potentially achieving sexual function."

So far Manning is doing well on getting to those goals, and he should be released from the hospital within the week. Manning’s other lead surgeon, Dr. Curtis Cetrulo, says this kind of transplant could be especially valuable for veterans who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with these kinds of injuries.

“These patients are very despondent and they often consider taking their own lives. They don’t have very much hope for intimacy going forward in their life, and they’ve already sacrificed so much in the service of their country. You know, I feel like it would be a really important and life-saving, in some cases, procedure for someone who’s in that circumstance.”

He says although it’s still early, they’re cautiously optimistic about Manning’s outcome.

“We’re hopeful that with this kind of experimental surgery that we can learn enough to make it safe and routine,” he said.

Manning is unmarried, and says he’s not sure yet what impact the surgery will have on relationships.

“Maybe my confidence level will go up. Maybe I’ll look at myself a little differently. Maybe. I don’t know yet. That’s going to take some time."

In the meantime, Manning says he’s happy he could play a role in helping doctors understand how to treat injured veterans and others facing this kind of significant loss.