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A Brazilian woman born without a vagina has been the first in the world to receive a life-changing constructive treatment involving the skin of tilapia fish.
Student Jucilene Marinho, 23, underwent the procedur - called a neovaginoplasty - in April 2007 and said it has made her feel like a 'proper woman'.
Jucilene suffers from Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome, a rare congenital disorder that leads to an absence of reproductive organs.
She agreed to become the first of four women to have the experimental procedure after being diagnosed with no cervix, uterus, ovaries or womb at just 15.
Dr Leonardo Bezerra, who began researching the procedure in 2016, explained: "To make the 'new vagina', we insert a vagina shaped acrylic mould, lined with the skin of tilapia, into the space created between the bladder and the rectum.
"The device remains there for 10 days to prevent the walls from closing."
Then, once the fish skin comes into contact with the patient's body, it acts like a stem cell and transforms itself into cellular tissue, similar to that of an actual vagina.
Everything goes through a special sterilisation process to get rid of viruses, scales and the smell of fish, which leaves a light-coloured gel dressing ready to be used. It's also faster, cheaper and much less aggressive than other methods, with a much faster recovery rate.
"It felt so good to have something the majority of women take for granted," said a delighted Jucilene.
After three months recuperating from her operation, in October last year she was given the all-clear to start having sex with her partner Marcus Santos, 24, who has supported her through it all.
"At first I was very scared to do it because I thought it would hurt and damage the opening," she continued. "But it was a wonderful moment. It was perfectly natural, like the opening had always been there."
With all its success, doctors are now working towards offering the treatment in multiple medical centres across Brazil and the world, once clinical studies have been completed.
As for Jucilene, she was discharged from hospital after three weeks and admits that she went straight out to celebrate, saying: "My family and friends, who have always been there for me, took me out to toast my new vagina!"
Words: Megan Walsh
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