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'It's Like The Final Puzzle Piece': Mayo Clinic Now Offering Gender Affirmation Surgery

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Mayo Clinic in Rochester began performing female gender affirmation surgeries last year. Since then, nearly 200 people have undergone the irreversible transformation. Mayo is one of a few hospitals in the country that offers the surgery.

It's a service of the hospital's Transgender and Intersex Specialty Care Clinic, which provides patients with everything from mental health support to hormone therapy.

WCCO's Mary McGuire spoke with one woman and her doctor about their experience with the surgery.

"I don't think being trans will ever fully 100 percent go away for me," said Alisha Valles.

Growing up in Cottage Grove, Valles knew something wasn't right. She didn't feel at home in the body she was born with.

"It wasn't a snap, 'I think I am going to have surgery one day,'" Valles said. "It's a, 'I have to think about, I have to weigh every single option.'"

After seeing a team of doctors at Rochester's Mayo Clinic, she decided gender affirmation surgery was the only way for her to align her body and her mind. This spring, Valles spent her college graduation day in a hospital bed, recovering from the extremely painful procedure.

"I figured out if I can put up with it for a few months, then it is worth it for the rest of my life because now I am free to do whatever I want," said Valles.

Seeing patients like Alisha flourish is one of the best parts of endocrinologist Doctor Todd Nippoldt's job.

"It's a very rewarding type of medicine to perform," said Dr. Nippoldt.

He says the Clinic performed 40 female gender affirmation surgeries last year and is currently scheduling about two per week.

Mayo offers several gender-affirming surgeries including facial feminization, breast augmentation and vaginoplasty for trans women and breast reduction for trans men.

"There were a lot of people who wanted to have the surgery, but for a variety of reasons, just couldn't have it done," said Dr. Nippoldt. "With our clinic opening up, it's an opportunity here in the Midwest to have this done."

The requirements to receive the surgery are extensive. A patient must have two letters of approval from mental health and hormone providers and must have lived as the gender they identify with for at least a year.

While the popularity of the procedure appears to be growing, Doctor Nippoldt acknowledges it is a somewhat controversial field of medicine.

"To be honest, there's probably a fair amount of personal views that aren't expressed just because it's not politically correct to express it these days," said Dr. Nippoldt.

He believes being transgender isn't a choice and equates it to being left or right handed.

"They are just born that way and that's it, you can't change it because it can't be changed," said Dr. Nippoldt.

The Clinic is expanding their surgical care offerings and is on track to perform its first male gender affirmation surgery by the end of the year.

"It's like the final puzzle piece, it's the end of the road that you've been building up to for years," Valles said.

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