Ohio Woman Still Scarred By 'Love' Doctor's Sex Surgery

For 22 years, Dr. Burt redesigned women's genitalia without their knowledge.

ByABC News
December 6, 2012, 5:04 PM

Dec. 13, 2012— -- 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 became impossible -- sitting down, wearing pants, riding a horse. 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.

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."

One said her genitals looked like "a filetted fish."

Burt's son James C. Burt III, 68 of Los Angeles, defended his father's medical practices in an email to ABCNews.com:

"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."

Dr. Burt, now 91, has not been available for comment directly.

Rodriguez had followed Burt since the late 1970s when he was promoting the idea of "altering a woman's body for male sexual pleasure." Later, in the 1980s, she examined whether or not women had given informed consent to his procedures.

Other doctors tried to alert the state medical board about Burt, but it did not take action until then Ohio Gov. Richard F. Celeste became aware of this medical procedure and reached out to the board demanding answers, according to a 1988 article in the Columbus Dispatch.

Doctors around the country were shocked. ''It's a disgrace to all of medicine,'' Dr. Sidney M. Wolfe, told the New York Times in 1991.

''His procedures were several standard deviations from what is acceptable," said Wolfe, who at the time was director of the Public Citizens Health Research Group. "And only now are people who should have spoken up 20 years ago slowly, timidly coming out of the closet.''

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.

When she first went to Burt, whom her first husband, an anesthesiologist, knew personally, Dillon was already in a happy second marriage with three children.

"[Burt] said, 'You don't really need to have any more kids,' I went ahead and got a hysterectomy," she said. "You trust your doctor."

Her surgery was so long and complicated, Dillon was barely conscious for five days following the procedure and was out of work for six weeks. "I thought I was going to die," she said.