Trans­plants: We’re al­most there!

Lesotho Times - - Scrutator -

SOME re­cent sci­en­tific in­no­va­tions are hold­ing up. For this, Scru­ta­tor is im­mensely happy. There is hope on the hori­zon. When a group of sci­en­tists from Stel­len­bosch Univer­sity an­nounced last De­cem­ber that they were about to con­duct the world’s first ever pe­nis trans­plant, I thought the world had gone bonkers. It was now com­ing to an end, I said to my­self.

I could not pos­si­bly fathom how a man could have an­other’s man­hood re­set­tled on him and sur­vive the vex­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Yes, the world has seen heart trans­plants, kid­ney trans­plants, liver trans­plants with a mea­sure of suc­cess. In fact th­ese kinds of trans­plants have al­most be­come rou­tine. But a pe­nis trans­plant?

I did not think that was re­al­is­tic. I have been proved wrong.

Led by Dr An­dre van der Merwe of Stel­len­bosch Univer­sity in Cape Town, a team of doc­tors per­formed the first suc­cess­ful pe­nis trans­plant in the world on a 21-year-old South African pa­tient who still can­not be named for eth­i­cal rea­sons. Ap­par­ently, the 21-year old is among the mul­ti­tudes of those great un­washed, who be­lieve in the out­dated prac­tice of tra­di­tional cir­cum­ci­sion. Un­der this prac­tice, boys get parts of their man­hood re­moved with­out anes­thet­ics un­der the false pre­text that this marks their rite of pas­sage into be­com­ing real men.

Des­per­ate to re­gain his man­hood, the 21year old vol­un­teered for the del­i­cate process. Not much is known about the donor. It is be­lieved it was a dy­ing man not scared to go into his grave with­out his man­hood, a ta­boo in most African coun­tries.

The long and shot of it is that Dr Merwe’s team suc­cess­fully at­tached a new pe­nis to the young man in a 22-hour op­er­a­tion. The good news is that the young man’s girl­friend sub­se­quently fell preg­nant and has now given birth, con­firm­ing the pe­nile trans­plant pro­ce­dure as an un­par­al­leled suc­cess. Many of you broth­ers who have your orig­i­nal penises but have failed to im­preg­nate your wives or girl­friend must surely feel jeal­ous of this young crooner. But don’t be dis­cour­aged. Keep try­ing.

The sec­ond achieve­ment from the world of sci­ence this year came from a team of doc­tors in Texas, which also hap­pens to be the home state of the world fa­mous war­lord, former US pre­mier Ge­orge W. Bush.

The Texan doc­tors have done the world’s first skull and scalp trans­plant to help a man with a large head wound from can­cer treat­ment.

MD An­der­son Can­cer Cen­ter and Hous­ton Methodist Hospi­tal doc­tors did the op­er­a­tion on May 22 2015. The re­cip­i­ent of the skull and scalp trans­plant is Jim Boy­sen, a 55-year-old soft­ware de­vel­oper from Austin, Texas, who had been left with an open head wound from ra­di­a­tion treat­ments.

The ra­di­a­tion treat­ments for a rare can­cer had left Boy­sen with an open wound in his head that would not heal.

In 2006 Boy­sen was di­ag­nosed with leiomyosar­coma, a rare can­cer of the smooth mus­cle, on his scalp.

Af­ter chemo­ther­apy and ra­di­a­tion, he was left with a large, deep wound on his head that in­cluded the scalp and the full thick­ness of his skull down to his brain. This had vir­tu­ally put Boy­sen on a knife-edge. Imag­ine walk­ing around with­out your skull and your brains ex­posed, float­ing all over you. It was a galling prospect un­til the Texan doc­tors got a new skull to trans­plant onto Boy­sen. Call it the beauty of sci­ence.

Please note that this trans­plant only in­volved the skull and scalp. That is the outer thick hard layer that pro­tects the brain. It did not in­volve the brains and other mat­ter in­side the head.

Most vic­tims of com­pli­cated trans­plants of this na­ture suc­cumb af­ter the op­er­a­tions. But Boy­sen is hold­ing up. He is alive and well.

The suc­cess of th­ese two del­i­cate pro­ce­dures has given re­newed hope that sooner or later, we will soon have full head trans­plants in­volv­ing the re­set­tling of an en­tire head with all its brains and other in­ner mat­ter onto an­other per­son.

An Ital­ian neu­ro­sur­geon, Dr Ser­gio Canavero, has been busy work­ing on plans to per­form the world’s first hu­man head trans­plant.

Valery Spiri­donov, a Rus­sian whose spinal mus­cu­lar at­ro­phy dis­ease left him se­verely dis­abled, has vol­un­teered to un­dergo the first head trans­plant. Un­der the pro­ce­dure Dr Canavero will cut Spiri­donov’s head and trans­plant it onto a healthy body to give the lat­ter a new lease of life. Some doc­tors are skep­ti­cal and have dubbed Dr Canavero’s plans reck­less. But Scru­ta­tor begs to dif­fer.

Af­ter the good news about the pe­nis and skull trans­plants, it’s high time head trans­plants were suc­cess­fully done. I have writ­ten about this be­fore and fol­low­ers of this col­umn will know why I am des­per­ate for head trans­plants. This is the best sure way of en­sur­ing progress and de­vel­op­ment for Africa, our King­dom in­cluded.

My frus­tra­tions about the lack of progress and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment in Africa are well doc­u­mented. I will never hide my ad­mi­ra­tion of coun­tries that have no nat­u­ral resources like Sin­ga­pore, Korea, Ja­pan etc but that have nonethe­less trans­formed into the world’s most pros­per­ous.

Africa is the rich­est con­ti­nent in terms of nat­u­ral resources yet its peo­ple re­main the poor­est. Take for in­stance the Demo­cratic Re­pub­lic of the Congo (DRC). It com­mands the sin­gle most ex­pan­sive min­eral re­source base of any coun­try in the world yet its peo­ple drink wa­ter from the sea. We have one thing in com­mon with our broth­ers and sis­ters from Kin­shasa. We all squat over pit la­trines de­spite liv­ing in our re­spec­tive cap­i­tals.

We all know the prob­lem of Africa. It’s mainly poor lead­er­ship and poor pol­i­tics. Big men rule and poor pol­icy propo­si­tions have com­bined to keep the con­ti­nent as the peren­nial lag­gard.

As soon as the first head trans­plant suc­ceeds, Africans ought to rise and de­mand that their politi­cians go to get new heads from brainy peo­ple from other re­gions who have suc­cess­fully trans­formed their economies for the bet­ter­ment of their peo­ple. That’s the surest way of fos­ter­ing de­vel­op­ment on our blighted con­ti­nent. I at­tended an African Union (AU) sum­mit re­cently. When I at­tend th­ese gath­er­ings, I lose hope about the fu­ture of this con­ti­nent. In­stead of dis­cussing seri- ous is­sues to trans­form the con­ti­nent, the lead­ers got busy in as­sist­ing that ter­ror­ist scumbag, Omar Al Bashir, evade a South African High Court de­ci­sion that he be ar­rested over his mas­sacres of 400 000 plus hapless peo­ple in Dar­fur. South Africa is a sig­na­tory to the Rome Statute and was obliged to nab Al Bashir but opted to for­sake its in­ter­na­tional obli­ga­tions. I am told Ja­cob Zuma, the host, danced and sang for his peers. They then feasted on lamb casse­role and the finest wines and the sum­mit closed with noth­ing of sub­stance dis­cussed to help this con­ti­nent. Can we con­tinue en­trust­ing the fu­ture of this con­ti­nent on th­ese goofies? No.

Head trans­plants are the best way for Africa. I am very se­ri­ous about this mat­ter. Let’s con­sider a few ex­am­ples. Imag­ine Barack Obama, af­ter fin­ish­ing his term of of­fice and near­ing the end of his life, agree­ing to have his head cut and trans­planted onto Thabo Thakalekoala.

Thakalekoala then be­comes Prime Min­is­ter of Le­sotho. Imag­ine how Le­sotho would im­me­di­ately com­mand se­ri­ous at­ten­tion by hav­ing the most hand­some leader in the world. Some­thing that can­not be said if Thakalekoala be­came pre­mier to­day. It’s an un­writ­ten rule of pol­i­tics that in­vestors go to coun­tries run by the most hand­some men and women. Prob­a­bly an­other rea­son why Africa has also failed to gain trac­tion. Just imag­ine the se­ri­ous re­forms that would fol­low and the pros­per­ity that would rain on our blighted King­dom if Thakalekoala’s torso in­her­ited Obama’s head. Barack Obama is a brainy leader. He in­her­ited an Amer­ica bankrupted by war­lord Bush and within a short space of six years has re­stored Un­cle Sam to all his glory. Un­em­ploy­ment is at its low­est and Amer­ica has taken off again.

Imag­ine what would hap­pen if Ger­man chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel’s head was trans­planted or re­set­tled on Mme Keketso Rantso’s large torso. Maybe Le­sotho would then pro­duce its own ver­sion of Mercedes Benz or BMW. Re­mem­ber, Africa is the only con­ti­nent in the world which has not in­vented its own au­to­mo­bile.

Imag­ine Gen­eral Collin Pow­ell’s head be­ing trans­planted onto our very own King Kamoli. Isn’t that the surest way of restor­ing the much wanted se­cu­rity sta­bil­ity in Le­sotho.

Head trans­plants must not be con­fined to the politi­cians.

Imag­ine Bill Gates’s head be­ing trans­planted onto Engi­neer Mophato Monyake and Le­sotho then in­vent­ing its own Mi­crosoft? What a pity that Ap­ple’s Steve Jobs died and went with his in­tel­li­gent brains into the grave. If only head trans­plants had started then, his brains would have been des­per­ately needed here. Steve Jobs had built Ap­ple from be­ing a min­now into a $300 bil­lion dol­lar com­pany. He died of pan­cre­atic can­cer. The ra­tio­nale be­hind head trans­plants is that the brain is the last part of the body to die and one is only cer­ti­fied dead when they are brain dead. Most dis­eases that kill peo­ple oc­cur from the neck down­wards leav­ing a re­al­is­tic chance of cut­ting off their heads for trans­plants.

Af­ter the suc­cesses with skull and pe­nis trans­plants, I am surely hope­ful of the head trans­plants. And to my less en­dowed sis­ters, we can also hope for vagi­nal trans­plants. Sci­ence is surely trans­form­ing the world. That’s the only rea­son I re­main hope­ful about the fu­ture of Africa. And of course Le­sotho. Ache!!!

SUR­GEON Ser­gio Canavero plans to per­form the first ever hu­man head trans­plant.

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