Gender-affirming surgery completes Lori’s journey to her true self

Lori Brinkley
With the help of her LGBTQ support group, Lori found the gender-affirming care she needed at the UI Health Care LGBTQ Clinic.

For nearly 10 years, Lori Brinkley, of Perry, Iowa, took hormone therapy to align her body with her gender identity. To complete the transition, she needed gender-affirming surgery.

Lori assumed she might need to travel to out of state for the procedure, but she found the expert, respectful care she needed at the University of Iowa Health Care LGBTQ Clinic.

UI reconstructive urologists Amy M. Pearlman, MD, and Brad A. Erickson, MD, performed Lori’s successful zero-depth vaginoplasty on Valentine’s Day 2020. UI Hospitals & Clinics is the only facility in Iowa that offers the procedure.

“It’s absolutely amazing to be who I am and who I’ve always been,” Lori says.

Grateful for experienced, affirming care

Lori, 69, moved to Iowa from Colorado in 2016 to be closer to her son and his family. With help from her LGBTQ support group in Des Moines, she found a family practice physician who treats transgender women.

When Lori was ready for gender-affirming surgery, her doctor referred her to Pearlman, who specializes in zero-depth vaginoplasty—also known as vulvoplasty or bottom surgery.

Lori again looked to her support group to find out if Pearlman was the right choice. She learned that a friend from the group was Pearlman and Erickson’s first zero-depth vaginoplasty patient.

“I picked her brain about what she had gone through,” Lori says. “She assured me that Dr. Pearlman had the experience and knew what she was doing.”

The UI Health Care LGBTQ Clinic was close to home and had everything Lori needed.

“I didn’t have to go to Wisconsin, New York, or Chicago,” she says. “I was excited that the doctors and the procedure I felt confident about were available in-state.”

Her first appointment with Pearlman only increased that confidence.

“The receptionist greeted me with my preferred name,” she says. “The nurse called me in using my preferred name, which was already in my medical records. Dr. Pearlman made me feel comfortable with what was going to take place. Everyone was so nice and treated me professionally and respectfully.”

Team approach advocates for patients

Led by co-directors Nicole Nisly, MD, and Katherine L. Imborek, MD, the UI Health Care LGBTQ Clinic provides full-service medical care in a variety of disciplines, including the mental health services required for a referral for gender-affirmation surgery.

“Many doctors and hospitals would love to do this type of work, but they don’t have the infrastructure in place that Dr. Nisly, Dr. Imborek, and their team have worked so hard to establish,” Pearlman says.

Pearlman says a key part of the clinic’s value is that its inclusivity extends across UI Health Care. Providers are trained to create a welcoming medical home for all patients.

“Within the hospital system, there’s a focus on teaching providers to be gender-affirming and inclusive,” she says. “Everyone advocates for each other and our patients. I love working as part of this team.”

Lori benefited from that team effort. Pearlman’s team noticed a mass on Lori’s thigh and called in a cancer specialist who followed up with Lori after surgery. Tests revealed it was cancer. Lori had no doubts about returning to UI Hospitals & Clinics for cancer treatment.

“I’m so blessed,” she says. “Everyone with UI Health Care is fantastic. Everyone I meet is accepting and treats me so well. It’s a wonderful place.”

Perry, Iowa