NH teen called a 'pioneer' in gender reassignment surgery

Published: Jul. 25, 2019 at 4:11 PM EDT
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A high school student in New Hampshire is being called a "pioneer" after becoming one of the youngest people to undergo gender reassignment surgery. But her long and challenging journey began when she was just a child.

At 17, Emily Tressa finally feels fully herself. Last month, she became one of the youngest patients in the country to undergo gender reassignment surgery.

"For me, it feels almost like I'm finally fully complete now," she said.

Emily was born a boy but says she always knew she was a girl.

"I used to look in the mirror and be like, is it only me? Am I the only one that feels like this? That I'm trapped in the wrong body?" she said.

As a young child, she changed her name and started dressing as a girl, first at home and later at school. With her parents' support, and under the care of doctors and psychologists, Emily eventually started taking hormone blockers to prevent male puberty and then estrogen to develop a female body.

"Emily is a pioneer because she is at the forefront of this new generation of young kids, adolescents who are realizing what they are much earlier in life and are able to transition even before puberty," said Dr. Jess Ting, the director of surgery at Mount Sinai Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery.

Ting performed Emily's reassignment surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. He created female anatomy that is fully functional.

His team has completed 1,200 various operations. Ting considers it a lifesaving surgery given the alarming rates of attempted suicide among transgender youth.

Emily's mother, Linda, says her only fear is what would happen if she tried to hold Emily back.

"We saw the unhappy boy and we saw the happy girl. And we knew the statistics and we knew we'd much rather have an alive daughter than a dead son," Linda said.

Emily has become an activist and uses social media to let others know they're not alone.

"I don't want people to feel like that. It's OK to be who you are and just present to the world as yourself," Emily said.

Experts say there are still many barriers for transgender people when it comes to accessing appropriate care and that contributes to long-term health problems. Recently, the American College of Physicians published new guidelines for doctors to help them better understand medical issues specific to this population.