A Second Chance: Vasectomy Reversals
They’re expensive and complicated, but vasectomy reversals may be worth it for men who want a second lease on fatherhood.
For most men who get a vasectomy, the thought of a needing a vasectomy reversal later is the last thing on their mind. Gene McCroskey was just 23 when he had his vasectomy. He had already fathered a boy and a girl, timed just as he wanted. “His wife had endured two difficult pregnancies. Why, he figured, would he want additional children?
Thirty years later, it was time for a new fairy tale. McCroskey had divorced the mother of his children and met a new woman who wanted children of her own. McCroskey decided to try to get his vasectomy reversed. But “the doctors in Phoenix wanted $8,000 to $12,000 for the operation,” McCroskey’s current wife, Michelle, tells WebMD. “And when they found out he was over 20 years out [from his vasectomy], they didn’t even want to try.”
A Tucson-based urologist, Sheldon Marks, MD, took on McCroskey’s case. Today, McCroskey is the proud, 62-year-old father of Jessica, 8, and Kaitlin, 9. “It’s really exciting to see them discover things and figure things out,” he says. Marks is a partner at the International Center for Vasectomy Reversal and also a urology expert on WebMD.
Vasectomies are commonly considered a permanent form of birth control. Reversals are expensive and complicated surgical procedures, and success is not guaranteed. But many doctors report very high success rates from vasectomy reversals. And specialists in the procedure reject the notion -- widely held even in the medical community -- that the procedure is rarely successful in men who had their vasectomy more than 10 years earlier.
“If you don’t think you have a chance at a reversal, you do,” says Rick Bellah, whose vasectomy was reversed by Marks a whopping 42 years after the original procedure. Bellah and his wife, Eloi, now have a 3-year-old girl, who has a 50-year-old half-sibling.
A Big Decision
Of the half-million men who have a vasectomy each year, an estimated 2% to 6% later decide to have a vasectomy reversal, according to Cleveland Clinic. A common situation involves a divorced man whose new wife has never had children, says Ira D. Sharlip, MD, a urologist at the University of California, San Francisco, and a spokesman for the American Urology Association.
A vasectomy prevents the release of sperm when a man ejaculates. During a vasectomy, the vas deferens -- the tube that carries sperm from the testicle -- is cut or clamped. After a vasectomy, the man still ejaculates, but the semen contains no sperm. In a vasectomy reversal, the vas deferens is sewn back together or attached directly to the testicle so sperm can once again enter the semen.
Vasectomies are relatively simple procedures that are nearly 100% effective. By contrast, a vasectomy reversal requires use of surgical microscopes and microscopic sutures. And vasectomy reversals usually aren’t covered by insurance. The cost can vary strongly depending on the surgeon, but Marks estimates that it ranges between $8,000 and $20,000.