Following Accident, Peruvian Teen to Undergo Genital Reconstruction

PHOTO: Luis Canelo, 17, has traveled from his village in the Peruvian Amazon to Miami for reconstruction surgery.The Miami Herald
Luis Canelo, 17, has traveled from his village in the Peruvian Amazon to Miami for reconstruction surgery.

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.

While Salgado said he had never operated on a patient with an injury exactly like Canelos', there were two main risks associated with the procedure.

"There's a risk that he'll develop a clot in his artery or vein, and we'll have to go back to the operating room," said Salgado. "If we can't save the tissue, we have to go to his other forearm and do it all over again."

Another risk, Salgado said, was that when he connected Canelos' existing urethra to his new urethra, there's a chance that the area between the two may break down, causing Salgado to urinate out of the side of his penis.

Canelos told that he was very nervous about his upcoming surgery but was hoping for a positive outcome.

"I want to have a family, yes. I want to have a family by my side," he said. "I am so happy. I thank God for allowing me to come here with the nonprofit. I thank them for giving me this opportunity."

When he returns to Peru after his recovery, Canelos said he wanted to continue his schooling, and hopes one day to have a career as an agricultural engineer.

Roger Canelos, Luis' father, told he was so grateful to the nonprofit and the doctors who are helping his son.

"I want to thank God for us being here, the nonproft for having us brought here for my son's surgery. I hope God touches the heart of this community. I want to thank everyone profoundly.

"For the future, I want my son to be just as any kid his age, for him to have a family, with his kids," Roger Canelos said.