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From Olivia to Oliver: Transgender Patient Transitions Under Expert Care

Posted on Sep 27, 2018

Oliver with Suzanne Jackman, M.D.
Oliver with Suzanne Jackman, M.D.

Oliver, 16, was born female and back then, he was called Olivia. But Oliver never felt like he was a she.

“When I was younger, I just thought I didn’t confine to gender norms, which you know, not everyone does,” explains Oliver, who is a transgender patient at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. “As I got older, I became less OK with my body as I began puberty and I started to develop a large distaste for myself in that aspect.”

When Oliver went to middle school, he was ready to let the world know where he stands.

“It developed into me realizing in eighth grade that I was transgender,” says Oliver, who is from Seminole, Florida. “I had my friends call me Oliver and use male pronouns, and I realized it felt wonderful.”

Oliver is a patient of Suzanne Jackman, M.D., an endocrinologist at Johns Hopkins All Children’s, and first came to the hospital to be treated for another condition. At one of his appointments about five years ago, the conversation turned into a discussion about Oliver identifying as male instead of female. While an endocrinologist is known for treating diabetes, thyroid, puberty and growth, they are also the experts in transitioning transgender patients like Oliver. The stars aligned that day, as Johns Hopkins All Children’s and Jackman are unique in the Tampa Bay region to specifically treat transgender adolescents with comprehensive care.

“Dr. Jackman spent over an hour with us answering questions and giving us information about treatments,” says Oliver’s mom, Anne.

Treatment varies from patient to patient, but oftentimes the transition includes being seen by a mental health professional, taking puberty suppressants, cross-sex hormone therapy and sometimes surgery. Jackman has seen an increase in patients seeking transgender care since she completed her fellowship seven years ago.

“I think back then there was also less of a comfort overall with the treatment of transgender care,” Jackman says. “Endocrinologists felt like they had to send them to a center, but we are the center. We are here to offer specialized care and stay on top of the most recent literature and what the practice guidelines are doing, and provide a service to these kids and families that is not necessarily easy to come by.”

Jasmine Reese, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP, medical director of the Young Adult and Adolescent Clinic at the hospital, also has seen an increase in transgender patients. She is often the first line of care and refers them to Jackman.

“I think there is a lot more conversation happening amongst peers, and I’m tending to see more transgender patients because the community is identifying our clinic as a safe space,” Reese says. “My expertise is to identify what each teen needs overall, such as help with mental health or more information about hormones to start transitioning.”

Reese and Jackman, with the support of leadership at Johns Hopkins All Children’s, are pushing to stay ahead of the transgender curve with a new task force in order to better serve the LGBTQ+ community. There are also many efforts underway including hospital-wide education on inclusive care, using inclusive language and electronic medical record changes that will include preferred name. New protocols also will ensure quality care and safety for all patients regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.

“This is a vulnerable and marginalized group who is victimized, bullied and doesn’t have a clear place in the medical realm, so I am very passionate about this,” Jackman says.

Now going into his senior year of high school, Oliver not only loves his academics–although he admits math is not his favorite–but is also a leader in multiple organizations, including serving as president of the National Honor Society, president of Rho Kappa (his school’s social studies honor society) and co-president of his school’s Gay Straight Alliance organization. Through the support of Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, his classmates, family and friends, Oliver now feels empowered to inspire others.

“Just knowing that the hospital is here, it’s a big relief,” Oliver says. “Don’t be ashamed of who you are, don’t be afraid to express yourself because you are you–there’s no one else who’s like you, so you shouldn’t try to be someone else.”

He plans to undergo masculinizing chest surgery, also known as “top surgery,” in a few years and start cross-sex hormone therapy by the time he goes to college.  

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