Columbus Dispatch: OhioHealth Surgeon Provides Hope Through Gender-Affirming Surgeries
Chris McClung, MD, is a urologic surgeon at OhioHealth Grant Medical Center. He started his career doing traditional urology, including the removal of cancerous tumors and post-trauma care. Now, he specializes in gender-affirming surgeries.
“If you said, ‘You’re going to be doing gender-affirming surgeries,’ I would’ve said you’re absolutely nuts,” said Dr. McClung in an intreview with Columbus Dispatch reporter Allison Ward. “It’s turned out to be one of those gifts you find when you just follow your heart.”
Since 2017, Dr. McClung has now performed close to 150 bottom surgeries at OhioHealth.
Dr. McClung's interest in gender affirmation surgeries began about eight years ago while working for another hospital system. A transgender man came to him looking for help after experiencing complications from a surgery with another physician.
“He said, ‘Can you help me? I can’t find someone who is willing to help,’” said Dr. McClung.
Dr. McClung went into research mode to learn everything he could in order to help the patient. More patient interest soon followed, prompting Dr. McClung to find a physician who specialized in gender-affirmation surgeries that he could learn more from. He eventually traveled to Serbia to train with a surgeon there. Dr. McClung then returned to central Ohio and, in 2017, became the first gender-affirmation surgeon in the area.
“The cool thing about these surgeries is not only do you have really awesome patients, for the most part, but for me it was every surgical technique I had ever learned bottled up in one procedure,” Dr. McClung told The Dispatch. “It’s tissue rearrangement. It’s grafting. It’s fine delicate work. I was secretly hoping I enjoyed it, because the patients are what drew me to the field as much as anything else. They are so grateful. I can't even begin to express enough how good it feels as a physician to do these surgeries for patients."
One of those grateful patients is Sid Leister.
Leister, a recently retired OhioHealth associate, had gender-affirmation surgery with Dr. McClung in early 2020.
“You grow up and live your life in a body that just doesn’t match what’s in your head and in your heart," Leister told The Dispatch. "This is where I get a little emotional. I don't know how to describe it — just the fulfilling feeling of finally being the man that I always knew that I was.”
Surgery isn't where care for a transgender person begins or ends and not every transgender person decides to have surgery.
“You treat the whole person, you don’t just treat their genitals,” Dr. McClung told the Dispatch.
A group of OhioHealth physicians, associates and patients now participate as members of OhioHealth's Gender Affirmation Council. The Council is working to create a safe healthcare environment for transgender patients and educate other OhioHealth phsicians and associates about the community. Things like ways to make sure the correct pronouns are being used, creating a referral system of providers and streamlining care are some of the things he Council is working on.
“As a whole, the trans community is an underserved group of people,” said Sarah Coffey, DO, a family medicine physician with OhioHealth Physician Group, in an interview with The Dispatch. “You’ll find many health care disparities, inequities, because they are not pursuing care. They’re afraid of being misgendered or that the name won’t match.”
To read the full story in The Columbus Dispatch, click on the image of the paper's front page above.