Dr. Crystal Cole sees patients in the Teen Clinic in Adolescent Medicine for a variety of services but in recent years developed a rapport with many teens who are questioning their sexuality. Now, Dr. Cole is director of the hospital’s new Center for Gender Affirming Medicine, which officially opened in June.
“We’ve always treated youths who identify as transgender,” Dr. Cole said. “By offering the care and support these patients need in a location close to home, we’re helping them to have a better quality of life.”
The center provides care and a variety of services to transgender patients and LGBTQ+ youth (L= lesbian G= gay B= bisexual T= transgender Q= questioning and + meaning other sexualities such as pansexual, asexual and omnisexual extra). Patients work with a multidisciplinary team that includes gender-affirming medical providers as well as a social worker, nurse coordinator, mental health therapist and endocrinologist. The center sees patients age 7 and older.
Dr. Cole said transgender youths are at higher risk of suicide and homelessness. She added that some transgender youth will buy hormones on the street, putting their health at risk. Providing transgender patients with a supportive environment and medical care tailored to their needs is one way to help these youths during a crucial time in their physical and mental health development, she added.
One of the first patients to be seen in the center said without the center in Akron, he would have to go to Cleveland for medical care.
The patient, who did not wish to be identified to protect his privacy, was born a girl but never felt comfortable with the gender he was assigned at birth. He struggled since childhood with fitting in. While other little girls had Barbie dolls, his favorite was Ken.
“I wanted that body and that hair,” he said.
In adolescence, a friend said: “Maybe you’re just a guy.”
“That makes so much sense,” he said. Today, that’s what he considers himself.
He saw doctors at Akron Children’s Hospital for other conditions, and earlier this year was referred to Dr. Cole because of her work with other gender nonconforming patients.
The center can help by offering medications to suppress puberty development. Patients can also receive gender-affirming hormones. Most importantly, Dr. Cole, said, patients get the medical care they need and support from a team that puts the child’s well-being first. Mental health services and information on community resources are also provided.
So far, the services provided have made a big difference for patients and their family members.
“They have the answers for us and everyone has been so helpful,” said the grandmother of the patient profiled here. “We didn’t know where to go and what to do.”
The center sees new patients on Thursdays. Appointments are offered in Adolescent Medicine, located in the Considine Professional Building, 215 W. Bowery St. For an appointment, call 330-543-8538.