Oliver’s story: ‘This is how I’m supposed to be’

chest surgery patient looking at camera
(D. McCollester/Boston Children's)

Oliver Kuehne loves the beach. Luckily for this Cape Cod native, he’s able to enjoy the sun and sand all summer long. Yet this will be the first season that he’ll feel truly comfortable shedding his shirt. “I’m definitely excited to be able to do that now,” he says.

Oliver, 19, has been coming to the Gender Management Service at Boston Children’s Hospital since he was a freshman in high school. Two years ago, he began giving himself prescribed injections of testosterone as part of his care for gender dysphoria, which occurs when there is a conflict between the sex a person was assigned at birth and the gender with which they identify.

chest surgery patient poses with his mom
Oliver and his mom, Jen

Ready for the next step

Pleased with the effects of the hormone, Oliver told his clinicians that he was interested in taking the next step in his journey: chest reconstruction, or “top” surgery, a procedure in which physicians remove excess breast tissue and create a more masculine appearance for the chest. “I didn’t realize that was something Boston Children’s offered,” he admits. After meeting with Dr. Oren Ganor, co-director of the hospital’s new Center for Gender Surgery, he knew he was ready to proceed. On June 2, 2018, he underwent the procedure.

Like anyone undergoing surgery for the first time, Oliver was nervous. “I’d never had anything more than a tooth pulled at the dentist. I was terrified of the anesthesia.” But he was determined to forge ahead. “Everyone at the hospital was so nice. It wasn’t anywhere as scary as I thought it would be.” His fears were assuaged in part by Liz Boskey, the center’s social worker. “I have a lot of anxiety in general, so it was really nice to be able to talk to her and ease some of that worry,” he says.

oliver meets with the gender surgery team
Oliver and his mother meet with Dr. Oren Ganor and physician assistant Haley Chrisos.

Easier to breathe

Although he had read that recovery after chest reconstruction could be painful, Oliver found that this wasn’t the case for him. And just a week after surgery, he was able to see the results for the first time. “It was weird how normal it felt,” he remembers. “It was a huge change, but it didn’t feel different. It was more like, ‘Okay, this is how I’m supposed to be.’”

Six months later, Oliver returned to Boston Children’s for a surgical revision of remaining tissue — a procedure that’s common for patients who start with larger-than-average chests. Now fully healed, he says the procedures were worth it. And they’re having unexpected benefits, too. A lover of musical theater, Oliver recently played Roger in a local production of Grease. “It’s so different to sing and dance without wearing an uncomfortable binder,” he says. “It’s easier to breathe.”

chest reconstruction patient sits in exam room

‘Really happy with the way things are

Today, Oliver says he wants other teens and young adults exploring surgery to set aside their shyness. “I used to be nervous to ask questions, but that’s what the doctors are there for,” he explains. “It’s better to just ask and get an answer than to sit there and worry about it.”

Right now, he’s busy at two jobs and will be working as a camp counselor for his town’s recreation department too — but he’s planning plenty of beach time for his days off. “I’m really happy with the way things are right now,” he says.

Learn about the Center for Gender Surgery.

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