Circumcision Complications Result in Disfigurations,
Lawsuit, and Severe Stress for Family
My son, Alma Michael, was born five weeks prematurely in February of 1981. Because of his small size and on the recommendation of our pediatrician, we decided against circumcision. Our other son, Barry, then 21 months old, is also intact. Alma was diagnosed at birth as having an undescended right testicle. We were told by our pediatrician that if this did not correct itself by 1 year of age that it would need to be surgically corrected.
During his 1 year check up Alma’s testicle could not be felt, so our physician recommended a general surgeon to do the operation. We met with this doctor twice before the surgery. At the second visit he asked for our permission to do a circumcision “because he will have problems later if you don’t.” He implied that the “problems” would be a result of the surgery. At the time I had an ominous feeling about it, but we figured the doctor knew best so we consented.
The surgery was performed in March of 1982. The testicle was moved into place and secured. Then the circumcision was performed by use of the Gomco clamp. The doctor used electrocautery to seal off the blood vessels and Alma received several burns to the shaft of his penis. We were told they presented no problem Three days later Alma began to be ill. By the next day he was very sick, so we took him to the emergency room of the hospital. He was admitted with a severe infection and stayed for 8 days. During that time we consulted a urologist and a plastic surgeon. Alma’s appearance was so grotesque, we could not even tell what was left of his penis! The plastic surgeon saw him again after his discharge and decided to send him to UCLA Medical Center. He made the arrangements for us and Alma was admitted there on March 27. It was a 6 hour drive there from Nevada and I was 5 months pregnant. We had also received custody of my husband’s daughter, age 7, from his first marriage, and her half sister, age 4. They had only lived with us 5 months at the time. We left them and our son Barry in the care of relatives.
At UCLA, the doctors waited until all the dead skin fell off. Then on April 7th they took him into surgery. His penis was buried inside his scrotum with only the tip showing. This was to enable the skin to heal and the penis to grow. Alma was scheduled for surgery again in the spring of 1983, which we hoped would be the end of it. His progress was uncertain. Factors such as scar tissue, unseen damage and emotional dysfunction may affect his ability to have an intimate relationship or have a family of his own. The effect on our family has been catastrophic. My son Barry, now 4, was in counseling for a year due to his severe regression which occurred as a result of my absence and the stress in our lives. We are all still dealing with these problems and expect to undergo family therapy in the future. I gave birth to a girl in July of 1982. She was low-birth weight, which I believe was caused by my emotional distress. She was 2 weeks overdue and has had constant infections which have affected her ability to gain weight. At 13 months she weighs 14 lbs. And is 28 inches long.
Alma’s second surgery at UCLA occurred in March of 1983. His penis was lifted out of the scrotum and the loose skin pulled around to cover the damaged areas at the base of the penis. His doctor says he will look normal. We still have reservations though. It took until June for the swelling to subside and we do not feel that his appearance is normal. Luckily, his testes have assumed their proper position. We have been told that Alma’s sexual abilities will not be known until he is 13 or 14. That is an awfully long time to wait when he is only 2 (as of this writing.) He will have to be told of all this one day and it will certainly be traumatic.
All this trauma has changed Alma’s personality. A bright, cheerful, outgoing baby has become an often fearful, sleepwalking and nightmare prone child. For a time earlier this year, he would awaken screaming with pain and it often took an hour or more to calm him down. This pain was due to erections when the penis was still inside the scrotum. Now he prefers to sleep with us, and if not allowed to, he will get up during the night to check on us and to be reassured. This has disturbed our sleep patterns and also those of the other children when we try to put Alma back in his own bed.
My son, Barry, is also frequently concerned about his own penis and tells us he needs surgery or asks to have it examined. I lost my job in April of 1982 due to Alma’s medical needs and have had to have bio-feedback therapy for migraines and stress management. Our whole family has experienced problems as a result of Alma’s “accident.” My husband lost his job in May of 1982 due to the overwhelming stress he was under. He remained unemployed until July – the day before our daughter was born.
The financial hardship, in spite of the aid of Crippled Children’s and filing for bankruptcy, has caused us much distress.
This is by no means the end of Alma’s story. How long it will go on is anyone’s guess. We have filed a lawsuit to recover damages and expenses, but that takes time and the outcome is uncertain.
In 1984 this mother updated her son’s story as follows:
Alma is three now. We’ve finally gotten him potty trained and he usually sleeps through the night. He still complains of pain and has nightmares off and on. Also he has a problem with diarrhea and a rash that it causes. We are also hoping to see a neurologist.
Our daughter, Cassandra has finally licked her infections. She is still small, but she is healthy now and there is no permanent damage.
My husband, Steven is getting counseling. He has had a lot of difficulties dealing with Alma’s problems. Our marriage has really suffered. Steven’s reaction was to hide form it all. He stopped doing everything but work. It has been Hell. He is much better now, having realized why he felt and reacted the way he did.
Alma has been in counseling too. A lot of his separation anxiety has disappeared.
The older girls and Barry are hanging in there. I just keep praying that all of this will be over soon so we can be a normal family some day. I feel so drained and have had a hard time not giving up. I am now pregnant again. It was a shock and has come at a bad time. I have not taken it well. I am quite sick much of the time, but the baby appears to be fine.
(At the time of this writing the lawsuit was still in court and they expected a settlement soon. Mrs. Holdaway and her husband subsequently divorced. She moved with her children to California where she gave birth to another girl during the summer of 1984. Later, she and her husband reconciled, remarried, and moved back to Nevada.)
In 1987 she provided this final update:
In March of 1986 we settled his lawsuit out of court. The majority of the settlement is in a trust for Alma. Because of the structure of it, Alma gets control of the money at age 18. He will never want for his (financial) needs, for which we are thankful. The cash sum we received was not enough to pay off all our bills, but it helped a lot.
Physically Alma no longer complains of pain, but he does ask questions about his appearance. His penis appears foreshortened and has a thick ring of tissue behind the glans. His doctors assure me that this will become resolved with maturation. At this point that is 6 to 10 years away.
Our other children seem to be doing well. We still receive counseling from time to time. Our youngest child, Lamuel, was born in December 1986 at the same hospital where Alma had his initial surgery. Interestingly enough no one asked if I wanted him circumcised! Many of the hospital personnel remember Alma and ask about him whenever they see us.
We fervently hope and pray that this ordeal is over for us. It could have been much worse. The saddest part is that little boys continue to be permanently disfigured and maimed.
This has really been an experience for me. I’ve been trying to get Alma’s story in a magazine or something, but no one is interested. Our local paper printed a short piece two years ago when I pushed for it. Some day I hope to find a national release for it.
Lori and Steven Holdaway
(Personal correspondence with Rosemary Romberg)