Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is the chilling name of a barbaric procedure suffered by an estimated 500,000 Muslim girls in the United States. The worldwide figure is a heartbreaking 200 million. Georgia physician Dr. T. Wayne Bloodworth's mission is to provide free surgeries to restore the bodies and minds of women who have been traumatized and robbed of their female identity. When patients arrive at the clinic from the US and other parts of the world, they often ask his welcoming staff, "Why does a white man do this?" And while the patients are not asked about their own religion or their immigration status, his staff answers openly, "He is a care-giving Christian white guy." One of his recent patients at The Surgery Center for FGM best summarized Dr. Bloodworth's goal in her grateful and life changing comment, "I feel whole again."
What exactly is FGM, its origin and impact on women? The World Health Organization's definition; "FGM is partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons."The origins of FGM, also called Female Circumcision, are somewhat lost in history. It is certain though that FGM predates Islam and is often traced to 5thcentury BC Egypt. FGM is practiced mostly in sub-Saharan Africa as well as in Asia and the Middle east in 30 nations. Yet its prevalence is growing in the US especially in eight states where California and the District of Columbia have the most women with FGM. The usual age for "cutting" is between 3- and 10-years old accounting for 60% of girls and 25% from birth to 3 years old. Worldwide, between 10-15% die annually amounting to roughly 75-100,000 girls.
The procedure is minimally based on religion and mostly on tradition, custom, and rite of passage. In Sierra Leone, for example, 74% of girls under 19 have suffered an FGM procedure. The resulting consequences are massive physically and emotionally. They include death, urinary tract infections, shock, increased risk in childbirth, and a host of other issues. In contrast to non-consequential male circumcision, the World Health Organization (WHO) describes FGM as a glaring case of gender inequality. WHO also goes on to say, "It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person's rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death." Try to imagine holding down a baby or a young girl in agonizing screams. A crude knife, tin can lid, or rusted razor blade cuts her genitalia resulting in a trauma lasting a lifetime.
When Dr. Bloodworth describes FGM, his emotional intensity is evident. "The stories I hear from my patients are cruelty at its worst. It's a merciless barbarism. Despicable. How can a mother do this to her daughter? Or allow others to perform FGM? It creates post- traumatic stress, depression and the possibility for many dangerous consequences."
Dr. Bloodworth is often asked how he became one of the few FGM surgeons in the world. Reflecting on his childhood and successful OB/GYN practice over the last four decades, he himself describes his journey as unexpected. Meeting Dr. Bloodworth, it's easy to assume that the 6'4" now white-haired doctor played football, basketball and baseball in his Warner Robbins, Georgia small-town high school. Add hunting and fishing to his upbringing in a two-parent home and active in a Baptist church, his childhood and youth could have been a Norman Rockwell subject. Dr. Bloodworth credits his Dad as an inspiring role model. "Dad only finished the 7th grade and he expected me to get an education." Dr. Bloodworth describes him as a "big helper" saying, "If any family needed anything Dad would do whatever he could."
Growing up in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s in central Georgia, he was not exposed to any immigrants since they didn't live there. Later, after graduating University of Georgia, then earning an MBA, he received his medical training at Tulane. During his residency at New Orleans' Charity Hospital, immigrants comprised his entire caseload. His learning was comprehensive including delivering a thousand babies into the world! When relating the story of another patient who almost died from an ectopic pregnancy, his eyes filled with tears when he described her efforts to locate his home, so she could bring him a home-made lemon pie to express her thanks.
Short term medical missions and domestic charitable work dotted his career. During his five years as Chief Resident in a Las Vegas hospital — and assistant professor of gynecologic surgery at the University of Nevada — he specialized in serious gynecological cancer cases. His Christian faith took on a deeper dimension as he grappled with using his skill set to its fullest extent. "Some patients had basically minor problems yet didn't survive. Others had very serious issues and survived. It led me to an irrefutable fact that all I can do is my best, God is in control, He is sovereign. The outcome is in His Hands."
Then, several years ago, after watching a few television documentaries, Dr. Bloodworth became acquainted with FGM. His wife encouraged him to investigate it. He quips, "It was not a burning bush experience." Yet an idea to open a free surgical clinic took hold, a clinic that offered free surgery that did not involve insurance issues. Although he is a Fellow of the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery and a Fellow of the College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, he sought additional training from the pioneer of FGM surgery, Paris-based surgeon Dr. Pierre Foldès. He has performed FGM surgeries for 16 years on 6,000 patients. Dr. Bloodworth flew to Paris twice to receive training for this specialized reconstructive surgery. As his mentor, Dr. Foldès not only trained him, he warned him, "You will receive death threats. I get them all the time."
Instead of retiring, the 73-year-old doctor founded and opened The Surgery Center for FGM in metro Atlanta, a beautiful full-service clinic. The center is different from other centers in that only FGM patients are treated. He welcomed his first patients in May 2018. His employees include a psychiatrist and psychologist. "Beyond surgery, these patients need psychological counseling and special care for the trauma they experienced," said Dr. Bloodworth. In a 2017 Time Magazine article Dr. Bloodworth is quoted, "In 90% of cases, FGM can be reversed with surgery in an hour or an hour and a half."
While other professionals are beginning to donate their services, Dr. Bloodworth up until now has totally financed the operation and equipping of the clinic. Since there is no fee for the services, they depend on donations and grants." He welcomes donations for what he views as a ministry for a hidden trauma suffered by hundreds of thousands of women. He wants to expand into training other physicians since only a handful of surgeons currently have the know-how.
If you wish to help women who have been scarred, you may do so by clicking here: www.surgerycenterforfgm.org/donate.html