Ask Steve Van Sciver of San Antonio about the two youngest of his six children, and he’s sure to get choked up. Both are a joy in his life, but had he and wife Mary not had a conversion to a more serious practice of their Catholic faith, they would never have been born.
|Seated at a Catholic TV show in San Antonio, are, from left, Steve and Mary Van Sciver, and Dr. Mark Hickman. Courtesy photo
Van Sciver, 51, is retired from the U.S. Air Force and works as an instructor pilot. A few decades ago he thought he was living the good life: four kids, a dog, a boat and a nice house. He and Mary thought they had enough children, and began using contraceptives.
“We were following the contraceptive mentality. We thought we had enough kids. We took the next step, and I got a vasectomy,” Van Sciver told Our Sunday Visitor.
It wasn’t long before the couple’s attitude about sexuality changed, Van Sciver said, with “the marriage act becoming a more selfish thing for personal gratification.”
At the suggestion of a priest and after having recourse to prayer, the couple decided to pursue a vasectomy reversal. The couple’s chief motivation was not to have more children, Van Sciver said, but “obedience to God and the teachings of his Church. However, in God’s great mercy, he gave us two boys.”
Today, the couple speaks publicly about their experience.
Vasectomy is birth control for men. The procedure involves closing or blocking the tubes that carry sperm; hence, sperm cannot leave a man’s body and cause a pregnancy. A vasectomy typically renders a man permanently sterile.
While Catholic teaching allows birth regulation through respect for natural fertility cycles, it rules out contraception and sterilization as “intrinsically evil."
Promoting life teachings
Over the past four years, Dr. Mark Hickman has become a leader nationwide in helping men restore their fertility through vasectomy reversals (and has done media appearances with the Van Scivers promoting the procedure). Dr. Hickman, a committed Catholic, has performed 850 reversals at his office in New Braunfels, Texas, near San Antonio. His patients come from all 50 states, Canada and even from remote regions throughout the world.
For Dr. Hickman, it is not merely a business, but an apostolate. “When I was first approached about doing vasectomies, I hesitated, because I was busy doing other things. But the Lord said, ‘I have other plans for you. I want you to promote my teachings on life.’”
The apostolate began years before with another physician, Dr. Cary Leverett, a urologist who had had a vasectomy reversal himself. He and his wife were still not able to conceive, and ended up adopting two children. Dr. Leverett, however, launched the ministry to offer affordable vasectomy reversals in a Christian environment.
Countering 'death culture'
Dr. Leverett’s practice grew, and by the time he retired several years ago, he had performed over 5,000 reversals.
◗ Vasectomies are a common procedure. At least a half million men in the United States undergo the procedure each year.
◗ About 5 percent have regrets.
◗ A reversal can be costly: Physicians can charge $8,000 to $9,000, and institutions as much as $22,500.
◗ Health insurance often will not pay for these costs
In order to keep his apostolate alive, he approached Dr. Hickman about continuing his work. Dr. Hickman, although already having a successful general thoracic (chest) surgery practice, agreed. Today, 75 percent of his practice is reversals; he does six to eight per week at a cost of $3,000 per reversal.
Dr. Hickman said, “My patients are usually people of faith, Catholics and other Christians, Muslims and Orthodox Jews. It’s refreshing and inspiring to see so many people doing something counter to the culture of death [of which Pope John Paul II spoke]. I think I get more out of it than my patients.”
The reasons men offer as to why they got vasectomies and later pursue reversals vary, Dr. Hickman said. Many did so in first marriages, and wanted children with a second wife. Others had lost a child through illness or an accident, and wanted more children. Others had watched their children grow up and realized what a blessing from God they are, Dr. Hickman noted, “and realize what they did was wrong, and want to be open to having more children.”
“Many Catholics don’t realize that getting a vasectomy is a sin. Once they’re instructed about it, they want to get it reversed if it is not a huge financial burden,” he said.
The religious character of his practice is readily apparent. Dr. Hickman, for example, invites his patients to join him in a prayer for a successful reversal as they’re about to begin the procedure. He said, “People are touched that we pray with and for them. Most doctors are God-fearing people, but are afraid to witness their faith.”
Vasectomy reversals are generally low risk. Their success can be measured in different ways. There are often immediate emotional and spiritual benefits. Dr. Hickman said, “I have patients who tell me after they had their vasectomies they cried, because they knew it was a sin. Then they have a reversal, they tell me they feel whole again. It is their way to get right with God.”
Jim Graves writes from California.