Dr Earl - Vasectomy

Reporter: Marguerite McKinnon

"I've personally done well over 5,000 men, reversing their vasectomy from over 100 countries in the world who've come here as well as all the states." You may not remember Professor Earl Owen's name but you may know his work.

In 1970 he was the first to successfully reattach a 2 year-olds finger. Ten years ago, Professor Owen performed the world's first hand transplant. 2 years later, he doubled it, literally, a double hand transplant and remember the French lady who had the world's first face transplant in 2005? That was Professor Owen's team. And just to throw in a little extra, Professor Owen also designed the seats in the Opera House, the retractable spring seats we sit on...and some for the orchestra.

In his modest Sydney office... an equally modest Professor Owen has photos of more than five thousand children born after another first - vasectomy reversal surgery.. Without his skill, none of these children would exist. "We have a better than 85% baby rate, which is quite staggering."

"Within 5 minutes of being in Dr Owen's office both Ken and I just looked at each other and went, oh this is what we should have done" said Marnie. Ken and Marnie O'Rourke are blessed with beautiful children, but after a serious bout of chicken pox in the family while Marnie was pregnant with baby number four, Ken had a vasectomy.

"At the time it was the right thing to do because to have three healthy kids a fourth that we were pretty sure would be born healthy we just thought, no, we can't go through this stress anymore and we counted our blessings. We've got these healthy kids but when Storm went to school it was a whole different thing. It was, "my baby's gone" sais Marnie. Ken and Marnie asked their doctor abut a vasectomy reversal.

"Their advice pretty much was don't waste your money your time with the reversal they never work it's not going to happen." Doctors told Marnie to go through IVF. "With the whole IVF we were given a lot of false hope and were told well it shouldn't be a problem for you guys and very much were under the impression that first go no problems. No worries and it wasn't that at all and there was a lot more involved. A lot of money, a lot of time, a lot of stress a lot of hormones" says Marnie.

After 12 failed months and a miscarriage, Marnie found Professor Owen, five years after his vasectomy, Ken had it reversed. "Well the bonus for us was that we're not a second partnership or marriage so we knew that together we were able to have kids. And I think that for us was just that extra confidence that this will work. It's only a matter of if the operation works the rest should pan out fine. And it did, one month. First month we had a baby" said Marnie. Now five, Summer is already ruling the roost. "But this one, I have her every Sunday she's mine for the whole day. Weeknights you know I get home I actually see her whereas the others I didn't get to see the other kids" says Ken.

Professor Earl designed not only the microscopic tools but the microscopes, revolutionising surgery around the world. Just to give you an idea how precise this surgery is, the vas deferens which is re-connected in a vasectomy reversal is only one millimetre in diameter - the size of two hairs and the tiny stitches are about an eighth smaller. The tools and technique all pioneered by our very own Australian surgeon, Professor Owen.

"I get unbelievable feedback. People are so thrilled to have babies when they've been told by doctors that they can't or they've had failed IVF or they've given up hope and people, the men who have vasectomy reversals are the nicest men in the world, because they've had a vasectomy. They're not male chauvinist pigs, they're kind people. They're conservative, they're considerate of their wives which is why they've had a vasectomy in the first place and when a tragedy happens of their wives get killed or they divorce of their children get killed, get tumours, they feel desperate that they have to replace the baby or have another baby."

Not all vasectomies can be reversed but professor Earl has an incredible strike rate. "They know that the longer it is the less the chance of getting a vasectomy reversal. So a baby under ten years, we have an up to 90% baby rate. Over ten years it gradually goes down. Our record is a man 33 years since his vasectomy. So he was in his 70's and he did get a good sperm count and he did get him wife pregnant."

"I was so happy to come out of the hospital and put occupation - in the little form at the hospital - occupation: mother. Because I'd done the whole career thing and it was just a total joy. The whole process, even though it was difficult and I was sleepless for months. It was such a joy and she still is such a joy." Cathy is another happy customer. Alex had his vasectomy after having 2 children from a previous marriage but the change in life saw a change of heart. "So I went to a very lovely female GP in one of the tower buildings there and during the conversation I said, my partner and I, I've had a vasectomy but we're thinking of children is it possible? And she said, Oh! I know just the man! Professor Earl Owen" says Alex.

The rest, they say is history. Kairo is an adorable 5 year-old, dearly loved by her parents. "Once you get older when you're in your 50's having a small child jumping up and down on you in the pool right, does hurt, you know, it's not..ha ha..you feel getting down and doing horsies on the rug, you know on the carpet and carrying her around. Watch the neck and the shoulders" laughs Alex."I'm still operating and I can't see myself retiring. I think you have to tire before you retire and I don't ever intend to tire" says Prof Owen.