Health

A 2-year-old showed signs of puberty after being exposed to his father’s testosterone gel. He grew pubic hair and his height was off the charts.

A 2-year-old showed signs of puberty after being exposed to his father's testosterone gel.  He grew pubic hair and his height was off the charts.
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  • Barnaby Brownsell developed “significant” penis and pubic hair when he was 2 years old.
  • Doctors told his family that it was due to prolonged exposure to his father’s testosterone gel.
  • Her mother launched a campaign to get the makers of the gel to include a prominent health warning.

Every time Erica Brownsell took her 2-year-old Barnaby to the playground, other parents asked why a child her size still drank from a bottle.

On one occasion, she says, a stranger remarked that “he looked like a little man.” She said some people called him a “Viking” or “Samson” because of his muscular build.

But that was only after Brownsell saw pubic hair around Barnaby’s ‘big guy’ penis that she was seriously worried.

“I knew it wasn’t normal,” the 43-year-old mother told Insider, noting that her toddler looked like a 4 or 5-year-old boy. “He had massive, sustained erections and his height and weight were off the charts.”

Brownsell, from Brighton, England, added: “He weighed 26 pounds when he was 1 year old and gained more than two pounds every month between 12 and 18 months. It wasn’t fat, just fat. muscular.”

Dr. Tony Hulsepediatric endocrinologist at Everlina London Children’s Hospital in the UK, was somewhat taken aback when Sosna consulted him in March.

Barnaby had as much testosterone in his system as a grown man

Blood tests showed Barnaby had an abnormally high level of testosterone — as much as a grown man — when it should be negligible for a boy of his age. He also had the bone density of a 4.5 year old child.

Other tests ruled out more common causes, such as an endocrine tumor or a congenital condition that affects the adrenal glands.

Two-year-old Barnaby Brownsell is shown on a slide with his much smaller cousin who is the same age.

Two-year-old Barnaby Brownsell looks 4 or 5 years old and is much taller than his cousin, who is also 2.

Courtesy of Erica Brownsell


“It was very scary,” Brownsell said. “Nobody seemed to know what was going on.”

Then one of Hulse’s colleagues made a suggestion. She wondered if Barnaby had been exposed for long periods of time to artificial testosterone treatment intended for adults.

Hulse told Insider he emailed Sosna asking if he had ever come into contact with the drug.

“My husband had been using testosterone gel for several years,” Brownsell said, explaining that Barnaby’s father, Peter, was born with complex testicular disease.

Barnaby Browsell, who looks more like a four-year-old than a two-year-old, is carried by his father, Peter, through a park with trees.

Peter Brownsell applied testosterone gel to his skin every day, unaware that the substance was being transferred to his son.

Courtesy of Erica Brownsell


She said they were “shocked” to learn that the generous amount of topical gel he applied each day may have caused Barnaby’s issues.

“I spent two years of my life thinking I was protecting and caring for him when in fact his own environment was contaminated,” Brownsell said.

According to career consultant Brownsell, her husband used the product – branded Testogel in the UK and AndroGel for the equivalent type of drug in America – on his skin to help correct his testosterone deficiency.

Dr Benjamin Udoka Nwosuthe chief of pediatric endocrinology at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New York City, told Insider that absorption of testosterone gel or cream – usually applied to the upper arms and shoulders – is “never complete “.

Testosterone gel could be risky for children if exposed to the drug

“Testosterone remains on the skin even hours after application,” Nwosu said. “Family members and others who are in close contact with the male patient are at risk of direct exposure.”

The doctor said that testosterone “passes through the bloodstream” even when the patient is wearing clothes. “Studies have shown that even if you cover the site with a T-shirt, 40-48% of the hormone can be transferred,” Nwosu said.

He said if the exposure “occurs over a long period of time,” the amount of testosterone can be harmful. High levels are particularly dangerous for children, Nwosu said, because they can enter puberty years before their peers.

Symptoms, he said, include acnepubic and armpit hair and oversized reproductive organs.

Brownsell said she and his artist wife took turns caring for Barnaby while the other worked. The father watched him frequently in the morning. His shift would start after applying the Testogel, his wife said, before describing the 65-year-old as a “hands-on dad”.

Hulse told Insider he was “99.99% certain” that Brownsell’s hormone treatment triggered Barnaby’s puberty at an extraordinarily young age.

The Barnaby specialist told his parents the boy’s chronological age would eventually ‘catch up’ to his body

The doctor, who strongly advises people to use disposable gloves when applying the gel, said he was relieved to tell Barnaby’s parents that his chronological age would eventually “catch up” to his body. He explained that the boy’s testosterone levels would return to normal now that his father had moved on to testosterone injections.

“Barnaby will stop growing so quickly,” Hulse said, adding that the problem was caught relatively early and “hopefully it won’t cause any long-term damage.”

Two-year-old Barnaby Brownsell plays on a swing in a playground while his dad, Peter, sits on the next swing and watches.

Barnaby Brownsell, pictured with his father, is muscular and the size of a child at least two years older than him.

Courtesy of Erica Sosna


He now supports Brownsell’s campaign to raise awareness of the risks to children of testosterone gel. She wants to see a prominent warning introduced in the UK on Testogel packs, along with specific instructions on the package leaflet. AndroGel in the United States had a framed warning since 2009 because more than 20 cases like Barnaby’s had been reported to the Federal Drug Administration. Adverse effects led one child to undergo surgery, according to the FDA.

Insider has contacted Besins, the European pharmaceutical company that makes the gel, for comment and is awaiting a response.

Meanwhile, Brownsell said Barnaby’s “preventable” condition had taken its toll.

“The toxin actually distorted his appearance,” she said. “We’ll never know what he was supposed to look like when he was 2 years old.”

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