A little over a year ago, María felt "a black sheep, a person different from all the others". She was born with the Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome (MRKH), a genetic malformation that affects one in 5,000 women. Because of this disorder, Maria does not have a vagina or uterus. He was detected "at 16 years old". The period did not come and the family suspected that something was not right. "At first I did not give importance, but then, when I started dating a couple, yes." It was "impossible to have sex". The matter is so intimate, that you only agree to speak with EL PAÍS by phone. Maria is not called María. Live in a city in southern Spain. She is 26 years old and works as a saleswoman.
"In October of last year," he continues, "they informed me that they were going to try a vagina prosthesis." He did not doubt it. A clinical trial looked for girls, between 17 and 26 years old, for the project. They chose eight, Maria among them. "It changed my life radically," he says. In just one month, they prepared it. The operation lasted "two hours" and took place at the Virgen de la Arrixaca Hospital in Murcia. After two weeks of recovery, María started a new life. "I go every month to review, but everything is going very well," he says.
"At the beginning, I had the prosthesis a lot of hours," he recalls. Now, "only at night", although she has no problems "to go out with her". "It does not hurt, it's easy to apply, it does not bother". It allows him to lead a "normal life", especially, "when it comes to meeting someone". The couple he had before surgery disappeared. Right now she is single. But one year after the operation, nothing matters anymore. "It was something I had to do."
The project, funded by the Valencian Innovation Agency, "shortens the surgical treatment, reduces the time of hospital stay and is very convenient for users," says gynecologist María Isabel Acién
The vagina prosthesis carried by María is a project developed by professionals from the Hospital de Sant Joan in Alicante, the Foundation for the Promotion of Health and Biomedical Research of the Valencian Community (Fisabio) and the Miguel Hernández University (UMH) in Elche. Leading the project is the gynecologist Maria Isabel Acién, who explains that this device is used, "mostly in cases of vaginal agenesis, for women born without a vagina or uterus." But also "in men who develop as a woman" and who opt for a sex change operation. And, finally, "in the most severe cases of genital mutilation in which, in addition to abducting the clitoris, girls are introduced to abrasive substances that seal the vagina".
The project, funded by the Valencian Innovation Agency, "shortens surgical treatment, decreases the length of hospital stay and is very convenient for users," says Acién. "It is a kind of large tampon" that is inserted after a dissection "of the space between the bladder and the rectum, between the pelvic floor muscles", both in patients suffering from agenesis and in the changes of sex. In those of atresia, genital mutilation, "the space sealed by the spillage of acids opens". Patients must wear the device "throughout the day until skin is generated" and an opening is fixed. From that moment, it is enough to have it "a few hours a day, usually at night, while they sleep."
The development of the prosthesis has been carried out by Miguel Sánchez, director of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Energy of the UMH, the other visible head of the project. The device has been carried out using "parametric design and 3D printing technologies", so it can "adapt to the body of each patient". The prosthesis is self-attached, the personalized manufacture "avoids contact and lacerations" and reduces "the healing time", continues Sánchez. In addition, "exerts a minimum pressure" against the musculature of patients.
This study, which has already been patented in Spain, has just received an award for the "project with the greatest potential to improve the lives of people", awarded by the MIT of Boston
To make them, they use "polylactic acid (PLA)", a "biocompatible material that promotes epithelization". "It's a process similar to that of a hole piercing that closes once practiced, "says Sanchez. "It is a natural process, the material used ensures that the skin is born alone around the prosthesis", which is thus fixed to the body. It is not necessary to make skin grafts from other parts of the body, as is usual. Except in cases of transsexuality. "In sex change interventions," says the engineer of the UMH, "the skin of the penis is turned over", which is the one that is fixed to the prosthesis.
This study, which has already been patented in Spain, has just received an award for the "project with the greatest potential to improve the lives of people", awarded by the MIT of Boston. "Genital agenesis is a disease that affects the image and relationships of people who suffer from it," confirms Acién. And, in addition, it reveals itself in adolescence. "My first boyfriend understood that it was impossible for me to maintain relationships," recalls Maria. "He asked me to have surgery, but then it was very complicated and he left me." All that has already happened. "I no longer have problems when I meet someone," he says.