In 2002, 58-year-old widow Carolyn DeWaegeneire woke up from surgery in Bega Hospital on NSW’s south coast to remove a 20mm pre-cancerous lesion on her labia, to find all her external genitalia removed.
Obstetrician and Gynaecologist Dr Graeme Reeves had performed a clitoridectomy rather than remove the small genital lesion. According to DeWaegeneire, he told her just before the anaesthesia took effect that he was going to take her clitoris as well.
When a nurse objected to the amount of genital tissue Reeves was removing, he said it didn’t matter because DeWaegeneire no longer had a husband. The area removed measured 95mm by 55mm by 34mm.
DeWaegeneire (them known as “Mrs C”) was shattered and felt mutilated. Going to the toilet was “electric agony”.
Mrs C also has had to endure personal hygiene issues because her urine now puddles due to the absence of a proper outlet. On reviewing her case a gynaecological oncologist said that the surgery performed on Mrs C had been out of favour for 30 years due to the significant level of deformity that it causes and the large amount of normal skin removed.
The same year, Marilyn Hawkins, also 58, was recovering in the Pambula District Hospital from what should have been a relatively minor treatment to correct “slight leakage”.
She ended up “a hundred times worse” than when she had gone in.
“He stitched me up like an old blanket…I was in such agony after the operation that I could hardly sit down for about a month. He also stitched up my vagina so tight that I couldn’t have sex.”
After the operation, Ms Hawkins found it difficult to control her bladder. Having developed depression and feeling suicidal, she had a breakdown in 2004. “Every time I wet myself, I felt like I was crying inside,” she said.
She is now on a disability pension and taking medication for psychological trauma.
Last week DeWaegeneire heard the verdict in her case and that of two other female patients, delivered in the NSW District Court.
A minimum of two years to be served in a three-and-a-half year sentence.
A distressed DeWaegeneire responded: “I was hoping that a woman would be treated equal to a man.”
Asked what sentence Reeves should have received, Ms DeWaegeneire said: “If a penis and a scrotum had been cut-off what sentence would you give to him?”
In March, Reeves was found guilty by a jury of maliciously inflicting grievous bodily harm on Ms DeWaegeneire with intent to cause her grievous bodily harm. One month later in April, Judge Greg Woods also found him guilty of indecently assaulting two patients during internal pelvic examinations.
The judge said the treatment of the women in each case was “reprehensible” and that Reeves had not shown any contrition for his “grossly wrong” conduct.
Reeves’s defense counsel said he was suffering a major clinical disorder, a personality disorder and impotence. He had also been “overworked”.
A number of victims were asking why the doctor was able to ignore a previous ban and go unpunished for so long when complaints stemmed back 20 years. Despite adverse findings against him in 1997, he was able to find work in obstetrics practising on the South Coast from 2002-2003.
When some of his victims tried to sue him, they found he had cancelled his private medical insurance and was deemed bankrupt in 2000.
“I can’t comprehend how this has all taken place, and that so many people are so badly damaged,” Ms DeWaegeneire said when she first went public prompting hundreds to come forward.
“It’s not just a little damage, it’s a monumental damage that has been done to a huge number of women, who until now have had no voice, they have not been able to say anything to their friends, their husbands.”
Reeves was struck off the medical register in 2004 after the NSW Medical Board acknowledged he had been practising despite a bar on him providing obstetric services following the death of a patient in 1996 – a woman who died of septicaemia after he refused to give her antibiotics. By May 2008 NSW police were investigating the deaths of 10 babies and seven women under Reeves care.
Lorraine Long, founder of the Medical Errors Action Group said:
“When (a number of) women went to different specialists to get repair work done on their genitals, their doctor said to them ‘You have the Reeves trademark scar’. In other words, they recognised his signature from before — it had become a joke.”
In July last year, legislation was passed requiring all registered health practitioners to report health practitioners who behave contrary to proper medical practice.
There are at least another 60 more charges relating to 20 other victims still to be heard.
The Director of Public Prosecutions is considering a re-trial.
(As there are further charges to be heard I have refrained from expressing my opinion and will have to moderate comments for legal reasons).
Update: Please support Carolyn’s petition protesting the sentence
D White, friend of Caroly Dewaegeneire
In Carolyn Dewaegeneire’s claim against ex- gynaegologist obstetrician Graeme Stephen Reeves, Judge Greg Woods unlawfully disagreed with the jury’s “Guilty as charged” verdict.
Consequently Reeves only received a minimum of one year for that felony which carries a sentence of up to twenty-five years.
Here is an excerpt from ‘R v Reeves – Remarks on Sentence’ by Judge Greg Woods, 1 July 2011 relating to Carolyn’s genital mutilation:
“I am not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the offender deliberately intended to perform an unnecessary and unjustified operation. Distinguished gynaecological experts gave evidence that by the year 2002 the extensive excision he performed was no longer justified. I accept this expert evidence. However … I am not satisfied to the criminal standard that in his own mind he intended to perform a medically unjustified operation. The offender is sentenced to two and a half years for this crime. I fix a non-parole period of one year. The offender will be eligible to be considered for release to parole at the expiration of the non-parole period.”
Carolyn had been unaware tiny area of skin on her vulva had been diagnosed as “non-malignant and non-invasive.” Therefore topical treatment was indicated for this early stage non-cancerous tiny area of skin as it had the potential to clear up the problem without surgical removal.
Five women who claimed Reeves indecently assaulted them gave evidence in court but Woods only found Reeves guilty of two. He decided the other three women had not been assaulted quite long enough.
See Clair Weaver’s story in Madison magazine about the ‘fall-out’ and Carolyn’s petition regarding the sentence of a minimum of one year without parole.