Pioneering Patient Finally at Home in Her Own Body

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“I definitely feel complete. I feel whole. But that doesn’t describe it… that doesn’t even begin to describe it,” beams Josie Jesse as she sits, finally comfortable, in her new body that reflects who she has always been. Although she belongs to the larger community of transgender individuals, Josie is one of a kind: she is the first patient ever to undergo comprehensive gender confirmation surgery at University of Utah Health.

For Jesse, knowing she was in the wrong body was an understanding she’s had since before the age of seven. “By the time I hit the end of high school, I figured I was stuck and had to be that guy I was told I was supposed to be,” she explains. For decades, Jesse battled with depression and self-acceptance issues as she struggled to reconcile her anatomy with her true self. “I’d get out of the shower and before I would look in the mirror, or anything, I’d get dressed.  [Seeing my reflection] was a constant reminder of not being whole, a constant reminder of not being me, a constant reminder of those struggles --  and that messes with your head.”

In 2016, Jesse decided that “enough was enough,” and made the decision to finally undergo gender confirmation surgery. The only question that remained was where would the surgery be performed? Before March of 2018, no hospitals in the state of Utah were prepared to perform the procedure. So when it came time to look for a surgeon, Jesse had to look for a plane ticket as well. “When I was looking up surgical options in Chicago, I was going to have to stay there for about fourteen days after surgery. So, you incur that additional cost, and then you’d have to go back for follow-ups, and I wouldn’t have had all of my friends and family that were able to just travel right up to the U to come visit me”. Jesse explains how the economic cost was not the only sacrifice she would make, but also that of the emotional cost as she believes that the support of her friends and family contributed enormously to the speed of her recovery. “The emotional support supplements the physical healing, so when you’re able to enable that instead of separate it, it’s a huge benefit.”

In March of 2018, Jesse heard that University of Utah Health would finally be performing gender confirmation surgery and by April of that same year, she was on her way to having the body she knew she was always meant to have. The surgery lasted approximately eight hours where two plastic surgeons, Cori A. Agarwal MD and Isak A. Goodwin MD, as well as two urologists, Jeremy B. Myers MD and James M. Hotaling MD, assisted with the surgery. “I was blessed to have all four in my surgery, because you normally would have just two, one of each,” Jesse says.

Jesse was put on absolute bed rest for five days and was released by day seven. Leading up to the surgery, Jesse met with her surgeon twice, once for the consultation and the other for the pre-op. After the procedure, she attended a follow-up visit the Thursday after her release, which moved from once per week to once every two months.

Given that the procedure is still very new to University of Utah Health, Jesse admits that she “definitely felt that it was a learning process, but I knew that going in and was totally fine with it. So it was never a frustration.” Ultimately, the main message Jesse wishes to convey to other members of the transgender community is that “as transgender people, we’ve always had to leave our state to get the surgery -- now we no longer have to.”

Today Jesse radiates happiness. She explains an interaction that happened between herself and her counselor after the operation. “Her first words she said to me were ‘Girl, you’re just glowin.’ And I’m like ‘yeah, I feel me, I’m finally whole’ and she goes ‘Oh, it shows’... and she’s been with me since the start of this journey.”

When asked to put her current feelings into words, Jesse says that it’s extremely difficult to articulate. “Take a child that’s had… some type of birth defect. Let it be fixed and ask them how they feel. Then see if they have the words. I’m guessing they probably won’t. I don’t know…I just don’t know how else to describe it.”

 

 

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