(NEW YORK) — Cheryl Sexton Dillon’s life was forever altered at the age of 36 when her doctor recommended a hysterectomy although she only needed minor bladder surgery.
While she was under the knife, he performed a nine-hour operation, relocating her vagina and removing her clitoral hood. Dillon said she had no idea he would do more than a standard hysterectomy.
Dillon, who in 1984 was a vocational teacher with three children, said afterward, “I thought I would die. The pain was unlike anything I had ever experienced in places I couldn’t understand.”
She said even ordinary activities — like sitting down, wearing pants and riding a horse — became impossible. Dillon could no longer have sex without excruciating pain, and despite an understanding husband, her happy marriage eventually fell apart.
The surgeon she trusted, Dr. James C. Burt, an eccentric but respected ob/gyn at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Dayton, Ohio, was a proponent of procedures to redesign women’s genitalia.
In his 1975 book, Surgery of Love, he wrote, ”Women are structurally inadequate for intercourse. This is a pathological condition amenable to surgery.”
From 1966 until the late-1980s when he surrendered his medical license, Burt had performed hundreds of these experimental surgeries on his patients, according to numerous national reports at the time, including one in The New York Times.
In 1988, the Ohio Medical Board cited Burt for alleged “experimental and medical unnecessary surgical procedures, in some incidents without proper patient consent.”
And now, Sarah B. Rodriguez, a lecturer in medical humanities at Northwestern University, takes a fresh look at the bizarre case in an article in the November Archives of Sexual Behavior.
Rodriguez said that many doctors knew about these disfiguring surgeries but chose to do nothing about it.
Patients who underwent these procedures have said they thought they were getting surgery for common ailments like incontinence or post-pregnancy repairs. Many, like Dillon, said they did not sign adequate consents.
According to Rodriguez, St. Elizabeth’s began requiring Burt to use a “a special consent form specific to love surgery” in 1979. By his own admission, he did not always get proper consent for some of his earliest surgeries.
“When I went to [Dr. Burt] and asked, ‘What have you done,?’ he said, ‘What are you talking about?'” said Dillon. “I found out from other doctors that I had been mutilated.”
Burt’s son, James C. Burt III, 68, of Los Angeles, defended his father’s medical practices in an email to ABC News: “There are hundreds and hundreds of Dr. Burt’s patients, alive today, whose marriages and lives were dramatically improved by [his] wholesome restoration to their fully functioning sexual responsiveness, which most of those patients had previously enjoyed earlier in their marriages.
“Until there are those in the media or the medical profession who are willing to look at the successful results, which fully benefited the lives of countless numbers of his patients, there should and will be no further comment on behalf of Dr. Burt or his family,” the email continued.
Dr. Burt, now 91, has not been available for comment directly.
Today, at 65, Dillon is writing a book about speaking out against Burt. She was one of the first to file a malpractice lawsuit in 1985 against both Burt and the hospital where the surgery took place.
“From what I remember, by default I won against Dr. Burt, and got nothing,” she said.
Dillon said she settled with St. Elizabeth’s Hospital out of court.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Michael H. O’Donnell, Idaho State Journal
Jackson Adams, Teton Valley News
Ralph Ellis, CNN