North Shore is first on Long Island to perform gender confirmation surgery

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Northwell surgeon David M. Whitehead, MD, third from right, and members of the team that performed Long Island’s first genital gender confirmation surgery, with David Rosenthal, DO, medical director of Northwell’s Center for Transgender Care. (Photo courtesy of Northwell Health)

Long Island’s first genital gender confirmation surgery was performed at North Shore Hospital in Manhasset, Northwell Health announced last week.

The procedure was performed by plastic surgeon Dr. David Whitehead, who conferred with a team of colorectal, urological and gynecological surgeons beforehand. 

“I do most of the procedure myself, but I make sure that the team is available if there is an issue,” Whitehead said. 

The surgery was a form of vaginoplasty, using existing male genitals and tissue to craft the look of a woman’s genitals between the prostate and the rectum. A pelvic floor physical therapy team then works with the patient before and after the operation, and the patient recuperates in the hospital for one week. 

Dr. David Rosenthal, medical director of Northwell Health’s Center for Transgender Care, which is based out of North Shore, said the first procedure was performed in “spring of 2019.” He added that Whitehead was chosen due to his “high level of experience” with the procedures.

“We wanted someone who had the surgical knowledge and the experience to do these procedures for good outcomes,” Rosenthal said. 

Before coming to North Shore, Whitehead held a fellowship at Weiss Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, where he learned the procedure and performed it dozens of times. 

In addition to the vaginoplasty, other surgeries that the Center has made available to transgender women in the system include facial feminization, tracheal shave (which reduces a patient’s Adam’s apple), vocal surgery, breast augmentation and orchiectomy. For transgender men, chest masculinization and hysterectomies are available.

Metoidioplasty and phalloplasty, operations used to create male genitalia for transgender men, are currently in development, says Whitehead, who estimates that a procedure may be ready “as early as next year.”

“It’s a question of reaching my standards of care for how to offer gender affirmation treatment,” Whitehead said. “We don’t want to rush something so important.”

Rosenthal, one of the founders of the Center for Transgender Care, says that the surgeries are just a part of the care that the Center offers for transgender individuals. 

“Northwell is committed to the transgender, gender-nonconforming and nonbinary community,” Rosenthal said. “Patients have diverse needs, and our goal is to provide for these needs and give the best that they can attain. From surgery to mental health care to primary care, we want to care for them as well as we care for any patient in the system.”

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