For his entire life, Anthony D’Allesandro Vivolo has dreaded going to the beach.
As Anthony describes, born a male in a female body, he has never been able to go shirtless on the beach or a pool as he conformed to the norms of a female body. It was never easy, he said “I can remember sitting in my first communion dress and crying because it was not who I was.”
“For years, I’ve been looking in the mirror and not understanding who I am,” said Anthony. ”I felt like a thing rather than a person. I was depressed and angry with myself.”
But all of that changed earlier this year when Anthony underwent gender-affirming top surgery at MelroseWakefield Hospital, a decision that has changed his life.
“Until I found the doctors at MelroseWakefield Hospital, I was never made aware of some of the surgical options available to me,” he said. Feeling more and more comfortable with his options, Anthony’s journey led him to Dr. Abhishek Chatterjee, a breast and plastic surgeon at MelroseWakefield Hospital and Tufts Medical Center.
“Meeting Dr. Chatterjee literally changed and maybe even saved my life.”
Surgical options in the community
According to Dr. Chatterjee, gender-affirming top surgery has become increasingly more prevalent in recent years, now that more and more people are openly discussing their gender identity and their options. In recent years, more insurance providers also have begun to cover the cost of the surgery.
“It is extremely gratifying to be able to offer these surgeries, to allow people’s bodies to conform to who they really are.”
Dr. Chatterjee has been performing gender-affirming top surgery for about five years at Tufts Medical Center, but Anthony’s surgery was the first one that he performed at MelroseWakefield Hospital.
For Anthony, having the surgery close to home was extremely important. Traveling into Boston was another potential barrier, but having an option in the community was a relief. “The convenience of being close to home made a big difference to me and eased my anxiety.”
“The majority of my patients are breast cancer patients, who are dealing with a very new and instant reality with their diagnosis,” said Dr. Chatterjee. “Their bodies have radically changed in a very short amount of time because of their disease.”
He continued, “but patients who are looking to affirm their gender have been living with their painful reality for their whole lives. I see that pain in their eyes, as they have been living in bodies they don’t recognize, and I have the opportunity to help change that.”
There is a multi-disciplinary team involved in the care leading up to gender-affirming surgery including primary care, behavioral health, endocrinology and surgery. “By the time I become involved,” said Dr. Chatterjee, “it is really the end of this particular journey.”
“This surgery can truly be a life-altering event, and I have the privilege of being part of that and being able to see the amazing reactions of my patients as we remove the bandages…the mood change and new sense of confidence that develops is remarkable.”
As for Anthony, his reaction at the moment the bandages were removed was emotional. “I couldn’t feel any better about myself than I do right now,” said Anthony. “I can finally live!”
Anthony hasn’t made it to the beach to celebrate yet, but is planning a trip soon. The sun, sand and water will feel like they never have before.
For more information about surgical services at MelroseWakefield Hospital, visit melrosewakefield.org/surgery.