Tennessee mother Jennifer Melton is living her worst nightmare.
The day after her baby son Nate was born in December, a doctor at the local hospital mistakenly requested him from the nursery, performing an unnecessary “tongue-clipping” surgery that was intended for another baby.
“I can’t sleep, it’s like a horrible dream come to life,” Melton, 31, tells PEOPLE. “I worry and pray that he doesn’t have any issues in the future from what they did with this unneeded procedure.”
Melton gave birth to her “happy and healthy” little boy via C-section at University Medical Center in Lebanon, Tennessee, on the morning of December 16. The next day, as the mother rested, a nurse came to take her son away for what Melton thought was a routine postnatal checkup – “checking blood-type, weight gain, that type of thing” – and told her to get some sleep.
When little Nate was brought back to Melton and her 33-year-old partner Dominique Harper, the nurse began talking about the frenulectomy performed on their child – a surgical operation to remove the piece of tissue that connects the tongue to the floor of the mouth, described to the mother as a “tongue clipping operation.”
“She started explaining how the procedure would help with our nursing problems and I go, ‘You must have the wrong paperwork, our nursing is fine,’ ” says Melton, a Hartsville, Tennessee, resident. “I even double checked to make sure she handed me the right baby!”
The nurse went to look for the right paperwork, when Melton made a startling discovery.
“I picked up my precious Nate and looked in his mouth and saw speckles of blood under his tongue,” she says. “I immediately began crying, wondering what had they done to my innocent child! It’s not like he can speak up and tell them to stop.”
Minutes later, Melton received a call on the in-room telephone from the physician who had performed the surgery.
“The pediatrician explained to me that he had accidentally asked for the wrong child, and performed the surgery on Nate by mistake,” says Melton. “He said he was sorry for what had happened, but that Nate would be fine and that ‘he didn’t even cry that much during the surgery.’ ”
In a statement released to PEOPLE by University Medical Center, the hospital says they are unable to comment on any specific patient due to “federal privacy regulations.”
PEOPLE has confirmation from Adam Groshans, Sr. Director of Ancillary Services and Marketing at University Medical Center, that the doctor who performed the unnecessary operation is “an independent physician who has privileges at our facility,” but not a staffed employee of the hospital.
Nashville malpractice attorney Clint Kelly is representing Melton as she pursues a case against both the hospital and the physician. There is currently no lawsuit pending.
“I’ve been doing this 20 years and never seen anything this bad,” Kelly tells PEOPLE. “I’ve never seen mistaken identity involving a baby. The hospital is supposed to be a sacred, trusting place. That trust was violated.
“Jennifer wants to spread awareness about what happened to her so nothing like this happens to anyone else’s child,” he says.
Today, at almost two months old, baby Nate seems to be in good condition, but Melton worries his speech and eating habits will be altered from the frenulectomy.
“I worry every day about Nate’s future,” she says. “I know it’s a job for doctors and it can get repetitive, but we have feelings and we are human beings. I don’t want anybody to feel like I felt in that moment and how I feel now, stressing over the uncertainty of our future and what’s in store for my sweet baby who is innocent and new to the world.”
Jennifer Melton and Nate will appear on the PEOPLE daily live web news show, PEOPLE Now, on Monday morning at 8:30 a.m. EST. Tune in to hear more about their story.