John Bobbitt's surgeons describe the day they reattached his penis: 'It came to us… in a hot dog bag'

PHOTO: John Wayne Bobbitt testifies in court in Manassass, Va., in 1994.PlayConsolidated News Pictures via Getty Images
WATCH How John and Lorena Bobbitt met: Part 1

For years, Dr. James Sehn enjoyed a “very quiet life” working at Prince William Hospital in Manassas, Virginia, but in the early morning hours of June 23, 1993, he said, “that all changed.”

“The phone at my bedside woke me up in the middle of the night, and really, all I knew about this, on the way into the hospital, was that a penis had been amputated and the organ was missing,” Sehn, a urologist, told "20/20."

The patient was John Wayne Bobbitt.

PHOTO: John Bobbitt points during testimony during Lorena Bobbitts trial at the Prince William Courthouse in Manassas, Va., Jan. 19, 1994. J. Scott Applewhite/AP, FILE
John Bobbitt points during testimony during Lorena Bobbitt's trial at the Prince William Courthouse in Manassas, Va., Jan. 19, 1994.

Bobbitt, who was 26 at the time, claims he had been sleeping when his then-wife, 24-year-old Lorena Bobbitt, cut off his penis with a kitchen knife in what would become one of the most notorious American pop culture sagas of the tabloid-driven 1990s.

“It was a nightmare,” John Bobbitt told ABC News' Amy Robach in an exclusive new interview for "20/20." “I cleared my thoughts, applied pressure. I went to wake my friend up to tell him to get me to the hospital.”

John Bobbitt said his friend, who had been staying over at their Manassas apartment that night, got him to Prince William Hospital “within 10 minutes.”

“Walking into the hospital, the [emergency room] doctor is -- you know -- looking at me, [and says] ‘show me your wrist,’” thinking at first that all the blood had been from a wound to his arm, Bobbitt told ABC News.

They said, ‘You know, we've got this guy here whose penis has been cut off. Can you come down and basically put it back on? I said, ‘OK, I can do that. Do you have the penis?’ And they said, ‘No.’

“Of course John knew there was no cut there,” Bobbitt’s plastic surgeon Dr. David Berman told ABC News. “[The doctor] goes ‘where’s all the blood coming from?’ and John points down below.”

When the sheet covering him fell away, Bobbitt said the emergency doctor’s “jaw dropped.”

PHOTO: The knife used by Lorena Bobbitt to cut off the penis of her husband, John Bobbitt, is part of the evidence used in her malicious wounding trial at the Prince William County Courthouse in Manassas, Va., Jan. 13, 1994. Steve Helber/AP
The knife used by Lorena Bobbitt to cut off the penis of her husband, John Bobbitt, is part of the evidence used in her malicious wounding trial at the Prince William County Courthouse in Manassas, Va., Jan. 13, 1994.

When he saw Bobbitt’s injury for the first time, “It was a kind of an out-of-body experience,” Sehn said. “It really takes your breath away to see this kind of disfigurement.”

Reflecting on that night, Bobbitt told ABC News he just “had a lot of faith” that everything was going to be OK. Sehn remembered how “surprisingly calm” Bobbitt seemed about what had happened to him.

“He was very calm through all of this,” he said. “I mean just almost surprisingly calm, as if he didn't even understand the extent of this injury and what the implications of it might be.”

Dr. James Sehn, a urologist, was one of John Bobbitts surgeons. ABC News
Dr. James Sehn, a urologist, was one of John Bobbitt's surgeons.

As Bobbitt was being examined, Sehn said the man had lost a third of his blood volume and he knew he had to get a microvascular surgeon to examine him.

Like Sehn, Berman -- a plastic surgeon skilled in microsurgery -- had also gotten a call from the hospital in the middle of the night and was asked to come in.

“They said, ‘You know, we've got this guy here whose penis has been cut off. Can you come down and basically put it back on?’” he told ABC News. “I said, ‘OK, I can do that. Do you have the penis?’ And they said, ‘No.’”

It came to us just in a bag of ice, concealed in a brown paper hot dog bag.

Meanwhile, Lorena Bobbitt had fled the apartment with her husband’s penis in one hand and the kitchen knife she used to cut it off in the other. She got into her car and sped off.

She told ABC News in a 1993 interview that she was so distraught after she maimed her husband that she wasn’t aware she was still holding the penis when she got in her car. She said that when it registered what was in her hand, she threw it out the car window and then drove over to her boss Janna Bisutti’s house.

“My husband said, ‘Lorena's here.’ I said, ‘Oh, my God, what has John done to her?’” Bisutti told ABC News in a 1993 interview. “I walked down the stairs and she's huddled in the corner of my living room screaming and crying in a fetal position… and she said, ‘I cut John.’"

“I tried to calm her down and she's crying, and then she said, ‘I cut his penis off.’ I said, ‘You did what?’ I said, ‘Well, I think we better call 911,’” she added.

PHOTO: Lorena Bobbitt meets reporters outside court in Manassas, Va., Feb. 28, 1994. Circuit Judge Herman Wisenant Jr. ordered her released from a mental hospital, five weeks after her acquittal on reason of insanity for cutting off her husbands penis. J. Scott Applewhite/AP, FILE
Lorena Bobbitt meets reporters outside court in Manassas, Va., Feb. 28, 1994. Circuit Judge Herman Wisenant Jr. ordered her released from a mental hospital, five weeks after her acquittal on reason of insanity for cutting off her husband's penis.

According to Bisutti, she was able to get Lorena to tell her roughly where she had thrown the penis out the car window, which led police to a small field across the street from a 7-Eleven.

“We located Mrs. Bobbitt, and she told us where she had thrown it and the officers and paramedics came out here to the field,” Former Prince William County Police Officer Kim Chinn told ABC News in 1993. “They came out here not knowing really how much time they had, and looked at this field and thought, ‘There is no way we're going to find it,’ and they did, just within a few minutes.”

We located Mrs. Bobbitt, and she told us where she had thrown it and the officers and paramedics came out here to the field. They came out here not knowing really how much time they had, and looked at this field and thought, ‘There is no way we're going to find it,’ and they did, just within a few minutes.

Meanwhile, back at the hospital, John Bobbitt was being prepped for emergency surgery and was starting to lose hope.

“In and outta shock, so I would come to, and then a doctor would be there, and they would say that ‘If they don't find the, you know, other part, then they would have to just sew me up.’ And I would have to sit down to go to the bathroom, you know, for the rest of my life.”

It was about 6 a.m. when, Sehn said, he was wheeling John Bobbitt to the operating room and they received word that the penis had been located -- undamaged. The officers who found the penis had taken it to the 7-Eleven, where they put it on ice and transported it to the hospital.

“It came to us just in a bag of ice, concealed in a brown paper hot dog bag,” Sehn said.

Sehn and Berman then began a delicate surgery that would take nine hours to complete.

The main focus of the surgery, Berman said, was reconnecting the arteries, veins and nerves so Bobbitt would have sensation and blood could flow in and out of the organ.

“The biggest concern I had is, simply, that it had to work," Berman said. "There was no second chance."

“I've never seen a penile replantation," he went on. "They're extremely rare ... but I had done a lot of microsurgeries. So I'd put a lot of fingers back on, and ... it was just this particular application was different."

Dr. David Berman, a plastic surgeon, was one of the surgeons who operated on John Bobbitt. ABC News
Dr. David Berman, a plastic surgeon, was one of the surgeons who operated on John Bobbitt.

By that time, Sehn said, The Washington Post had gotten wind of the incident and had sent a reporter to the hospital. After that, Berman said, the story “just went crazy.”

“Literally overnight, I was getting hundreds of phone calls,” he said.

When the patient woke up from surgery, Sehn said he was able to tell him that they had successfully reattached the penis.

“It was the happiest day of my life,” Bobbitt said, recalling the moment when he heard the news. “It's like, ‘Wow.’ It's like opening Christmas presents on Christmas day and you're a little kid. So -- I was excited.”

John Wayne Bobbitt is seen here during an exclusive interview with 20/20. ABC News
John Wayne Bobbitt is seen here during an exclusive interview with "20/20."

Berman explained that the primary medical reason that Bobbitt needed to be moved to the hospital's intensive care unit following the surgery was to be monitored.

“But it was also a way to keep the media and people away from him until he was a little bit more with it.”

Bobbitt stayed in the hospital for about three weeks to recover. After the second week, he said he realized the surgery had been a success.

“I called my mom… and I told her that I had an erection,” Bobbitt said. “She didn't want hear that… she said, ‘No, you gotta talk to your dad about that.’ So-- I don't know. It was exciting.”

“It’s normal now,” he added. ‘I don’t want to mess with it… it’s been through the wringer.”

Lorena Bobbitt was charged with malicious wounding and faced up to 20 years in prison if convicted. In court, she claimed her then-husband had repeatedly sexually and physically abused her. She was found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity in 1994, and spent five weeks at a mental hospital for treatment and evaluation.

For his part, John Bobbitt -- a former Marine -- has long denied her allegations of sexual and physical abuse. In a separate trial, he was charged with marital sexual assault and found not guilty.

Looking back now, 25 years later, on that infamous surgery, Berman said it remains the “most interesting and dramatic case I've ever done in my life.”

“It kind of really blew a lot of people's imaginations away with what could be done,” he said.

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