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Lemúrinn: The Icelandic Doctor Who Performed Testicular Transplants

Lemúrinn: The Icelandic Doctor Who Performed Testicular Transplants

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Photos by
Lemúrinn

Published March 4, 2015

During his studies in Vienna in the 1920s, Icelandic physician Dr. Jónas Sveinsson discovered a remarkable new form of treatment: Rejuvenation. According to Rejuvenants, ageing could be combated in different ways, but mainly with the uncanny method of transporting testicular tissue between patients, or from other primates to humans.

Dr. Jónas moved back home and became a local physician in the village of Hvammstangi, in rural Northwest Iceland. Once there, he commenced a series of experimental surgeries on the inhabitants, starting with dogs before moving on to common peasants.

He operated on a senile farm worker whose sexual potency and overall vigor were “greatly increased” by the procedure. Following reports from the Icelandic press, this operation brought Dr. Jónas considerable fame in the other Nordic countries—so much so that in 1930, an ageing Norwegian shipping magnate traveled to Hvammstangi to seek his services. Dr. Jónas transplanted a testicle into the Norwegian. Where did he get that testicle? A young man in the area needed cash and thus resorted to selling off one of his balls.

WTF?

This story is quite long: In the early 20th century, scientists were hard at work exploring the reasons for ageing. Common belief held that the process was a result of the body’s decaying endocrine system. It follows that some believed that by simply transplanting fresh glands into the body, ageing could be directly stopped. And that’s why some people thought it would be a smart idea to graft young glands into an old body.

“And thirdly, a baby born in the same living quarters on the farm could be traced to my operation, as the young parents of the child had been aroused by the lovemaking of the elderly couple.”

A French surgeon, Serge Voronoff, gained international fame for his technique of grafting monkey testicular tissue onto the testicles of men. He also transplanted the testicles of executed criminals into millionaires, who in turn made him a very wealthy man. Voronoff’s methods were later found out to be useless and he went from being highly respected to the subject of much ridicule.

Another pioneer in this dubious field was Dr. Eugen Steinach, a leading specialist in endocrinology and the Director of Vienna’s Biological Institute of the Academy of Sciences. One of his pupils was the aforementioned Dr. Jónas. In the summer of 1927, the Icelander studied in Vienna and witnessed new surgical methods, under the supervision of Dr. Steinach, meant to “rejuvenate” senile patients.

A saucy old man

Dr. Jónas was captivated by these experiments. When he returned to his post as a provincial doctor, he wanted to contribute in this field. But before he could operate on humans, he experimented on dogs, cutting various organs out or replacing others. After that he felt he was ready. In his memoir, ‘Lífið er dásamlegt’ (“Life is Wonderful”), the doctor, who died in 1967, wrote about the first human he rejuvenated:

A pauper in his eighties lived on a farm near Hvammstangi. He had been a strong man in his youth, well built and healthy, but was now very senile. I used Steinach’s methods on him, injected phenol on the spermatic cord and cut windows on his testicles.

After a few days the old man had transformed. Now he could walk around and even work, and became a lively and spirited conversationist, if not saucy for someone dependent on the local community.

But the really remarkable thing was something else, and the effect was so extreme that I regretted using both of Steinach’s methods on this man.

The old man slept in the farm’s living quarters along with other farmworkers. In the opposite bed slept an old woman in her sixties. Shortly after the operation people would witness the old man paying visits to her bed at night.

I did not know about this behaviour until the district administrator knocked on my door. He gave me a formal claim for damages on behalf of the municipality.

The farmer who employed the old man and received his benefits from the municipality, had seen the district administrator and demanded that his maintenance would be raised from 100 krónur to 300 krónur per year.

This was, according the farmer, firstly because of the old man’s constant sauciness and activity after my operation.

Secondly, that there was no more peace on the farm as the old man and the old lady were having sex constantly.

And thirdly, a baby born in the same living quarters on the farm could be traced to my operation, as the young parents of the child had been aroused by the lovemaking of the elderly couple.

Some months later, Sveinsson went to mainland Europe and discovered that the news of the pauper’s rejuvenation had travelled to Copenhagen, where the National Scala theater was premiering a play about “Dr. Svendsen and the Old Man in Love in Hvammstangi.”

Indecent-ish proposal

During his European trip, Dr. Jónas met with Dr. Voronoff, the world famous “rejuvenator” mentioned earlier. The Icelandic doctor learned many tricks from him. And a few months later he was given an unique opportunity to try these methods.

In late summer in 1929 I received a letter from Mr. Martensen, a Norwegian shipping magnate. He wrote that he was 73 years old and had lost his first wife a few years earlier. Now he was recently married to a 23-year-old girl. He told me that he feared that he was losing this young woman because of his old age and impotence.  

He added that he was one of Norway’s wealthiest people and would thus be willing to pay a handsome fee if I would be able to rejuvenate him.

Dr. Sveinsson immediately wrote back accepting the proposal. He invited the man to Hvammstangi and suggested an operation that had never been performed before but had every indication that it would be a success.

When I got a positive answer from the Norwegian I started preparing everything. I made a deal with a young farmer in the area, who I knew needed money to buy land. I bought one of his testicles for 2,000 krónur, which was enough to buy a decent estate in those days.  

And then Mr. Martensen arrived. He was a terrible tall and robust man, and also fat. I had him rested for two days. Then I proceeded on the operation: There were two operation tables. The shipping magnate was lying on one and the young farmer on the other. The operation was actually very simple: I removed a big part from one of the young man’s testicles and sliced it. Then I implanted it into the old man’s testicle with the Voronoff-method.

I received a letters from Martensen until 1939. Then he was 83 years old and had had three children with his wife.

The young farmer bought the land for his part of the money, as planned. Once, when drunk, he made the mistake of bragging about getting a good price for one of his testicles. He was laughed at. And now girls wouldn’t dance with him anymore.

Lemúrinn is an Icelandic web magazine (Icelandic for the native primate of Madagascar). A winner of the 2012 Web Awards, Lemúrinn.is covers all things strange and interesting.


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