Gender-affirming surgery gave a trans woman new life
Toni Ochtera knew she was different from the time she was eight years old.
Assigned male at birth, she suffered gender dysphoria that became so severe she could barely look in the mirror as she grew older. Gender dysphoria occurs when there is a mismatch between a person’s biological sex and gender identity.
“I hated what I saw in the mirror,” she said.
Toni, now 65, grew up in an era when the word “transgender” was rarely used and gender affirming surgery was not an option. “I grew up and lived a good part of my life knowing something was not right,” she said.
Living as a male, she spent six years in a nuclear submarine and then donned a police uniform for 23 years, retiring as a sergeant. It wasn’t until two years before retirement that Toni decided to take action.
She took hormones to develop more feminine features, but didn’t tell her fellow officers. She hid her developing breasts under her bulletproof vest and arrived at work in uniform, avoiding the locker room.
When Toni decided to seek gender affirming surgery as part of her transition, she found Dr. Caroline Plamondon, a Southcoast Health plastic surgeon whose patients include members of the LGBTQ+ community. She has also been a speaker and lecturer at LGBTQ+ Pride events and is an active member of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.
Toni was so impressed with Dr. Plamondon’s qualifications and her personal, compassionate approach that she traveled 90 minutes from her home in Connecticut to see the surgeon in Dartmouth.
Dr. Plamondon and her staff are careful to use a patient’s preferred pronouns, Toni said, and they understand that surgeries are medically necessary for many transgender patients.
“She understands not only esthetics, but also gender dysphoria,” Toni said. “For example, the whole reasoning for top surgery is different for a trans person than for a cis woman who has breast cancer.”
Prior to performing Toni’s breast augmentation surgery, Dr. Plamondon used VECTRA 3-D imaging to simulate how Toni how would look with various sized implants and explained the options for surgery.
Toni wanted a natural look, and so opted for implants under the muscle. Dr. Plamondon also performed an abdominoplasty, or tummy tuck, to make Toni’s figure more feminine.
“Instead of a rectangle, I have a figure now,” she said.
Toni helps connect patients with gender-affirming surgery options in her work as a lead peer patient navigator at a health center in Rhode Island. Because of her personal experiences, she now recommends Dr. Plamondon.
“Dr. Plamondon is a great advocate for trans people and a great provider,” she said.
Toni is thrilled with the changes in her life. The people closest to her, her wife and daughter, are supportive and she finds great meaning in her work with the trans community.
Recently, Toni asked her wife, Rita, how it feels to be a lesbian. She answered by throwing a pillow at her. “I revel in my femininity,” Toni said. “It’s an expression of who I am. To have that is to be able to live as a whole person.”
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