A Mother’s plea: Circumcision Gone Wrong

WARNING: This story contains mature content that may not be suitable for all readers.

The mother of a boy who suffered a botched circumcision at a Riverdale clinic tells a Clayton County jury about the anguishing aftermath.

Stacie Willis contends she was never told a vital piece of information after the bloody procedure--that part of her 18-day-old baby boy's privates had been cut off. At times during the trial she has cried listening to the testimony; the day the nurse midwife who performed the procedure talked about how the sliced-off tissue was kept in a refrigerator and then thrown away, she got up and walked out of the courtroom in tears.

She remembers the day in 2013 that she raced into the room where her infant son was “screaming and hollering” at Life Cycle OB/GYN. She had been in a room across the hall, waiting to see her OB/GYN, Dr. Brian Register.

“I see [medical assistant] Debbie Person standing there looking like she’s seen a ghost. I see [certified nurse midwife] Melissa Jones hovering over my son, squeezing his penis, looking like she was confused and didn’t know what was going on,” said Willis, bending forward and demonstrating the grip with both hands. She there was also “a bunch of bloody gauze” on the table.

She asked Jones what was happening, and Jones told her it was “just a little extra bleeding.”

Jones testified earlier that it took about 10 minutes of direct pressure and a number of silver nitrate sticks to stop the bleeding, which is atypical in a normal circumcision.

At Jones’s request, Willis ran to get Dr. Register, who looked over the scene and called the clinic owner, Anne Sigouin. Sigouin directed them to call D’s pediatrician, Dr. Abigail Kamishlian, who advised them to tell the mother to go home and come see her in the morning, but to go to the ER if the bleeding resumed.

The mother says she angrily made clear to Jones that she was taking the crying child to an emergency room anyway.

“Did anybody at Life Cycle during the time that you were there on October 21 ever tell you, ‘We have severed the end of the head of D’s penis?” asked plaintiff’s attorney M.J. Blakely.

“No,” she said.

She said they never even told her that the child’s organ was injured in any way.

While Jones testified that she thought keeping the tissue was the right thing to do in case anyone wanted it, neither she nor anyone told the mother that they had it—including when the woman declared that she was taking her son to the ER.

Willis said she was panicked and upset, but stopped at the front desk to re-book her follow-up appointment with Register. She ended up going to a branch of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, which is where she first learned that Baby D had an incomplete circumcision and a significant laceration to his glans—the rounded tip of the penis.

Willis admits in the days after she found out the tip of her son's privates had been cut off, she was furious with the nurse midwife and on a follow-up visit, lashed out at Jones in no uncertain terms when the woman said “hi” to her.

“I told her I would beat her [expletive] and drag her out of this clinic, get in my car and go home,” she testified.

Jurors paid close attention, with one man leaning forward on the edge of his seat.

She cried a bit as she detailed for the jury her son’s five surgeries to date, recalling that as he turned one year old and began talking, he could communicate more about what he felt.

“He just said, ‘Mommy, hurt,’” the mom said.

“How did you know that he was talking about his penis?” asked Blakely.

“Because he would point to it,” she said.

D’s mom described using various ointments and medicines on her son over the years. Some of the surgeries the boy has had addressed the look of his organ, as well as the function of the urethra, which was also cut. The mother has had to use a metal dilator to make sure that the pee hole was large enough for him to urinate normally. One surgery grafted tissue cut from the inside of his lip. It is so fast-healing, however, it has the side effect of frequent scabbing or crusting over, which the boy has learned how to pick off in order to efficiently use the bathroom.

Blakely pulled out a gigantic binder that holds D’s medical records and bills to date. They total more than $78,000.

Now almost five and with three brothers, Willis says D is starting to understand that he's different. The mother worries that as he grows up, his self-esteem will suffer and that this injury will consume him, she said.

“It’s hard,” she says. “I just wish sometimes I could just take his pain.”

On cross-examination, defense attorney Chip Benton questioned the mother about the proactive way she sought out doctors in several states for their opinions and interventions. For example, D’s first surgery was in January of 2014, although it had been recommended to her that he be five months old before that procedure.

Willis said that yes, she has been told that any future surgeries for her son would be years out.

‘I was horrified’

One of the doctors being sued is the boy’s physician, Dr. Kamishlian of Daffodil Pediatrics, who worked hard in her testimony to jurors to distance herself from the decision-making at the clinic.

Kamishlian insists that although she jotted down, "piece of glans severed," she didn't know it was a surgical emergency. She says she had no reason to distrust Jones, the health care provider on the other end of the the phone, and that Jones told her there had been some bleeding that was now under control.

“She said she severed a small piece of the glans, and at that point I was thinking, ‘Well, severed, cut off.’ I was not thinking amputation—no big chunk going off,” she testified. “And then thankfully, the next sentence was, “But everything—you know there was bleeding with the silver nitrate; it was tiny, minor, insignificant and everything’s under control.”

Pressed on why she didn’t ask questions or have the boy sent to emergent care, Kamishlian reiterated that she has worked with many nurse midwives over the years, that they are competent and licensed and she considered the person on the other end of the phone the expert and relied on her for information.

Asked how she felt at the news that a piece of the glans had been cut off, though, Kamishlian replied, “I was horrified.”

Still, Kamishlian insisted to plaintiff’s attorney Neal Pope, who hammered her on why the words “severed glans” did not trigger her emergency alarm, she did not believe she should’ve asked any other questions. Out-of-control bleeding would have been an emergency, she says—but Jones told her the bleeding had stopped.

“It would be nice if I had the hindsight, right, if I could tell exactly what was behind her words. But no, you take what you get,” she said.

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