Denver Health brings gender surgery back to Colorado

Interview with Denvers 9 New: Next With Kyle Clark 02/22/2019
Dr. Jennifer Hyer at Denver Health is one of the few physicians in the U.S. who performs vaginoplasty. “We’ve really underestimated what this surgery does for people,” she said.

DENVER — Denver Health has become a pioneering hospital in gender confirmation surgery.

Only an estimated 10 to 20 physicians in the United States perform vaginoplasty, or male to female reassignment surgery. Denver Health Medical Center now has three of those doctors.

One of their first vaginoplasty patients is a Denver native who says she felt out of place in her own body since childhood.

“I kinda forced my masculinity, and it ended up just being awkward,” Camille Hansen said. “Girls would be like, ‘What are you doing?’ And guys would be like, ‘What are you doing?’ Because I was terrible at it.”

Hansen had been on a five-year wait list for vaginoplasty at a medical facility in California. On the Denver Health wait list, she was number two.

“Everyone’s looked in the mirror and seen a reflection they don’t agree with at some time in their life,” Hansen said. “But, they’re able to correct it with like a haircut or exercise or something.  But, when you’re in the wrong body it just, it builds and it builds and it builds – and it never goes away.”

Since last year, San Francisco’s Dr. Marci Bowers has been traveling to Denver to train physicians to perform gender surgeries after her earlier work in Trinidad, where she learned from Dr. Stanley Biber, a pioneer in sex reassignment surgery.  Dr. Bowers is widely recognized for developing new techniques that have significantly improved outcomes for transgender patients.

“Gender identity is being more studied nowadays – more accepted as a medical condition,” Denver Health gender surgeon Dr. Rodrigo Da Silva said. “It’s pretty much giving them the identity that they always had, but it was hidden in a body that they didn’t belong to.”

Hansen’s vaginoplasty was performed last July.

“These patients are the happiest patients in the hospital,” Denver Health gender surgeon Dr. Jennifer Hyer said.  “After having this huge surgery they have these halos of happiness around them – almost like they’re glowing.”

Dr. Hyer says for some transgender people, the genitalia they’re born with causes extreme discomfort, and this surgery is life-changing.

“It means everything,” Dr. Hyer said.  “It’s huge, and I think we’ve really underestimated what this surgery does for people.”

Six months after her surgery, Hansen says everything is better – from work to relationships to just being with herself.

“Every morning, it’s like a brand new lease on life,” she said. “It makes you want to come out of your cocoon and engage in life.”

Denver Health is currently the only hospital in Colorado that offers this surgery.

The hospital’s gender surgery team started their work last May and performed 30 vaginoplasty surgeries in 2018.  With a long and growing wait list, they expect to do more than 80 this year.

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