A Texas family is suing a major hospital for giving their 4-year-old what they say is an "unintended vasectomy" during a routine hernia surgery.
A lawsuit filed on June 17 in Harris County, Texas, states that they boy, identified as R.B. in the lawsuit, had intermittent swelling in his right testicle so a doctor recommended an inguinal hernia repair procedure, which she performed in August.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, an unborn baby's testicles first grow in his stomach, then move to the scrotum via a tunnel while he's still in the womb. Sometimes that tunnel does not close and a piece of tissue can get inside, which turns into a painful bulge called an inguinal hernia. Surgery is needed to repair an inguinal hernia.
The AAP says 3-5% of healthy, full-term babies and up to 30% of premature infants are born with an inguinal hernia.
According to the lawsuit, after the surgery a pathology report showed that tissue from R.B.'s vas deferens (the tube in which the sperm travels to the urethra) was in the hernia sac specimen. The lawsuit says the lab concluded that an "unintended vasectomy" was performed.
The family accuses medical staff of "failing to carefully distinguish the hernia sac from the vas deferens; failing to properly position and separate the hernia sac from the vas deferens before removing it surgically" and generally not complying with safety protocol.
"The emotional and psychological effects of living with this knowledge is unfathomable — firstly for the parents and then for R.B. himself," reads the suit, saying that R.B. will have to address this with future romantic partners and he might need reproductive assistance to have children.
"These are all considerations that the typical 4-year-old does not have," states the document.
R.B.'s parents are asking for between $250,000 and $1 million for estimated damages like medical expenses, mental health treatment or physical impairment.
According to Dr. Philip Werthman, director of the Center for Male Reproductive Medicine & Vasectomy Reversal (who did not treat the patient and is not involved in the lawsuit), pediatric hernia repairs are the most common cause of injury to the vas deferens.
"In a child, the vas is tiny which is typically why this can happen," he told TODAY Parents. "However, if it happens on one side, patients will hopefully have no adverse consequences" to their fertility.
Werthman said that it's too early to know whether young patients will have fertility problems from such an outcome, until sperm production begins in puberty.
And male fertility depends on different conditions, says the Mayo Clinic, including "at least" one functioning testicle.
Tom Omondi of Sorrels Law firm in Houston is representing the family, who requested that TODAY Parents omit their names for privacy.
Right now, the boy is not in pain and he’s being monitored by his pediatrician, Omondi told TODAY Parents.
The parents are suing Texas Children’s Hospital, Baylor College of Medicine and Dr. Susan L. Jarosz, an assistant professor of urology who did the surgery, for medical negligence.
A spokesperson from Texas Children's Hospital told TODAY Parents in a statement:
"Texas Children’s Hospital’s top priority is the health and well-being of our patients. Due to patient privacy requirements, we are unable to comment."
A spokesperson from Baylor College of Medicine told TODAY Parents that it does not comment on pending litigation, directing TODAY to Texas Children’s Hospital. The spokesperson said that Dr. Jarosz is not available for comment.
"As a parent, you have tough conversations with your children, and this was thrust upon the family," Omondi told TODAY Parents. "They will have to cope with that. It's a constant worry."