After an accident with his father's rifle when he was 9 years old left him without a penis, 17-year-old Luis Canelos of Peru will soon be undergoing genital reconstruction surgery, thanks to the efforts of a Miami plastic surgeon and a Florida nonprofit organization that provides medical care to children in need.
"I first admit I was a little unsure about the case," said Maria Luisa Chesa, executive director of International Kids Fund's Wonderfund, which helped to coordinate Canelos' surgery.
"But then I realized how important this surgery was for this young man, not just cosmetically. It really goes beyond that to be something that will definitely change his life."
After Canelos, who has eight brothers and sisters, accidentally shot himself in the groin, he was transported to a hospital in Lima, nearly three hours away from his family's home in a remote village off the Amazon River. Doctors worked to repair Canelos' intestinal damage, said Dr. Christopher Salgado, associate professor of surgery and section chief of plastic surgery at the University of Miami, but he'd "blown off his external genitalia except for a small portion of his right testicle.
"The goal of the operation is not just for him to have something that he can show off in a locker room," said Salgado. "It's so, hopefully, he can father a family."
The 20-hour operation will take place at Holtz Children Hospital at University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center. Salgado will lead the surgical team, which will include a microsurgeon and a pediatric urologist.
"This isn't a procedure that is done in every hospital," said Salgado. "There are very few people that do this kind of reconstruction."
While doctors will be performing Canelos' surgery for free, Chesa said, IKF Wonderfund must still raise about $50,000 to cover hospital costs.
Salgado said that typically, phallus reconstruction, or phalloplasty, can cost anywhere from $35,000 to $50,000.
According to Dr. Andrew Panossian, an assistant professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery at USC Keck School of Medicine, phalloplasty is challenging and rare.
"It's a superspecialist kind of job," said Panossian. "You're doing very fine work and it's all sort of minutia that make this life changing thing happen."
Panossian said the procedure is like creating a tube within a tube. It requires a specific pattern of harvesting skin along with blood vessels and nerves to create a phallus. Then, a separate tube must run within the new phallus for sperm and urine to leave the body, he explained.
Salgado said he planned to take tissue from Canelos' forearm and make a penis out if it by sewing the skin up to arteries, veins and nerves.