British Columbia

B.C. to open gender lower-surgery clinic in Vancouver this fall

The Ministry of Health says a gender surgery clinic will be opening at Vancouver General Hospital by the end of September, meaning patients no longer have to fly to a private clinic in Montreal, the only one in Canada that performs the procedure.

Patients will no longer have to travel thousands of kilometres to receive care in Montreal

Lauren Sundstrom travelled from Vancouver to Montreal in 2010 to receive gender-affirming lower surgery. (Submitted by Lauren Sundstrom)

B.C. residents seeking gender-affirming lower surgeries will have access to publicly-funded services in the province by the fall.

The Ministry of Health says a gender surgery clinic will be opening at Vancouver General Hospital by the end of September, meaning patients no longer have to fly to a private clinic in Montreal, the only one in Canada to perform the procedure.

Lauren Sundstrom, a trans woman living in Vancouver, travelled to Montreal in 2010 for gender-affirming genital surgery.

"Having to fly six hours across the country when you've just had a surgery that makes it extremely difficult to sit down for even 10 minutes is not a fun experience," said Sundstrom.

She recalls the vulnerability she felt travelling across the country at age 20 for a major operation

"When I got home… there were things that were happening that I wish I had answers for from a local doctor." 

Complicated post-op care

Lower surgery refers to gender-affirming surgeries done below the waist for individuals transitioning from male to female or from female to male. The procedures, also called "bottom surgeries," include hysterectomies, phalloplasty and vaginoplasty.

For years, B.C. has covered the cost of the surgery under its Medical Services Plan, but patients had to apply to the province for additional travel assistance to pay for their flight to Montreal, or out of the country. Patients also had the option to apply to Hope Air, a charity that arranges free flights based on financial need for Canadians travelling for health care.

The distance also made it difficult to receive post-operative care. Dr. Cameron Bowman says having the surgeries here at home "just makes good sense."

"It's just a safe way to do it," said Bowman who has a fellowship in gender-affirming surgery. "There's a lot of things that can go wrong in the early stages of surgeries and patients themselves don't really have an idea of what those things can be." 

Trans Care B.C., a Provincial Health Services Authority program that connects people to trans health services says two surgeons trained in gender-affirming surgery will be working out of the Vancouver clinic: Dr. Krista Genoway, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon, and Dr. Alex Kavanagh, a urologist.

Trans Care B.C. says preparations are underway for the opening of a gender surgery clinic at Vancouver General Hospital. (CBC)

All lower surgeries will take place at the Vancouver General Hospital clinic while upper surgeries, or above-the-waist procedures, continue to be done at the University of British Columbia Hospital and other Vancouver Coastal sites, including Lions Gate Hospital.

The clinic is not yet accepting referrals for lower surgeries. Trans Care B.C. says in a news release it will be finalizing the referral process in the coming weeks with the ministry and with Vancouver Coastal Health.

Potential patients will get an update on referrals through a webcast hosted in September before the clinic opens.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story stated that patients had to pay travel and accommodation costs for surgery in Montreal or out-of-country out of their own pockets. In fact, patients can also apply for funding assistance from the province of B.C. or from a Canadian charity.
    Aug 07, 2019 12:19 PM PT

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