A South African university announced Friday it had conducted the world's first successful penis transplant and that the 21-year-old patient has recovered fully from the operation and regained full use of the organ. 

The patient, whose name was withheld, had lost his penis three years earlier after severe complications developed following a traditional circumcision. The situation required his penis to be amputated in order to save his life, an operation that left him with one centimeter of the original organ. He underwent surgery Dec. 11, 2014, to have a new one attached.

The operation took nine hours and was carried out by surgeons from Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town. André van der Merwe, head of the urology division at the university, said he had expected the patient to gain full functionality of his new organ after two years and that his recovery after four months was rapid. The penis came from a donor who also donated other organs, including his heart, lungs and cornea, the Huffington Post reported.

The university said that a penile transplant had been attempted before but that this was the first time it succeeded. The newly successful operation was part of a study involving nine other patients to develop a procedure for penile transplants that could be used in standard hospital settings in South Africa. For the study, the surgeons opted to use some of the microsurgical techniques that were used in the first facial transplant. "The procedure has to be sustainable," Van der Merwe said. 

It was possible that up to 250 penile amputations occur in South Africa every year, the university noted in its statement. Other estimates state that anywhere from dozens to hundreds of boys are injured, or even die, each year in traditional ceremonies, the BBC reported. The subject of penile transplants is a controversial one, given that the procedure is not life-saving, as other transplants can be.