Long wait for sex changes

Retiring surgeon puts operation on hold

LIBBY WILSON
Last updated 05:00 15/03/2014
Grace Tibble
BRUCE MERCER
STILL WAITING: Grace Tibble was all geared up for a gender change this month but it has been put on hold until a plastic surgeon is found to join the surgical team.

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Sex-change surgery is effectively on hold across the country as one of the three specialists who performs the operations retires, leaving a Hamiltonian who's waited years for surgery crestfallen.

Grace Tibble's surgery was one of four Ministry of Health-funded operations postponed due to plastic surgeon Peter Walker's retirement at the end of the year, meaning the team will not be able to guarantee care for any long-term complications.

"I'm ready. I don't want to wait until I'm an old bag . . . I want to be able to experience something that's expensive and good for me and to help my life while I'm young," she said.

Miss Tibble, 29, was born male but by about 13 was living as a female.

She received $52,000 for the gender reassignment operation in 2007 through the ministry's high-cost-treatment pool - money set aside for one-off treatments not otherwise funded by the health system.

She was told she was on track for this month so she "nearly cried" when she received a phone call last week to say it was off because plastic surgeon Peter Walker was retiring.

As recently as November last year she paid thousands for the required reports and to meet with surgeons to discuss her expected operation.

"Why make me pay that money to see him if he knew he was going to retire? And why make me run around like a headless chicken and do all these appointments and stuff? And then give me false hope as well in each meeting?" Miss Tibble said.

But Mr Walker said all three on the surgical team thought Miss Tibble was a good candidate for the operation.

Everything was on track and she had been proactive about getting through the required steps for surgery, he said.

However, when a former patient recently returned with complications several years after surgery the surgical team decided to postpone the "complicated and difficult operation".

"If this happened to Grace, what do we do then? That's their concern," he said.

He could attend to complications which occurred this year but the two other surgeons were concerned about the years to come with no plastic surgeon available. If he could find a replacement among New Zealand's estimated 40 plastic surgeons Miss Tibble could still have her operation this year, he said.

The Ministry of Health confirmed four male-to-female surgeries were due to be carried out in March 2014, following a hold on surgeries while improvements were made to the service. They were postponed after Mr Walker confirmed his retirement.

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Patients waiting for surgery and their referring clinicians would be told when the surgical team advised the ministry of "progress or otherwise" in finding a replacement for Mr Walker.

Surgery was performed by a team of three specialists - a plastic surgeon, a colo-rectal surgeon and a urologist.

The multi-stage process was "clinically complex" and included preliminary surgeries and psychiatric assessments before the operation.

For Miss Tibble, the surgery will be the next step on a journey about "wanting to be who you really are and not pretending just to make everybody else happy".

libby.wilson@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

- Waikato Times

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