Article about Dr. Preecha Tiewtranon,
from the Electric
New Paper - Singapore.
December 26, 2004.
HE'S THE KING OF SEX CHANGE OPS
This respected Thai doctor has changed 3,000 men to women, but other
doctors used to mock him for 'cutting off organs'
HE was dying of cancer in Switzerland.
Yet he travelled to Thailand last year, for an operation that had
nothing to do with the illness.
The patient, who was in his early 50s, was not expected to live
beyond a year. He went to Dr Preecha Tiewtranon for a sex change.
Dr Preecha said: 'He really wanted to be a woman. He sent me letters
and called me personally. He said he would have the will to fight
cancer if he was a woman.
'During the operation, I could feel cancerous lumps in his body, but
I managed to do it successfully.'
The patient went home and succumbed to cancer eight months later.
Dr Preecha said it was one of his most memorable cases.
'Right up to the end, he sent me cards telling me how happy he was.
It's cases like these that keeps me going.'
And many seek him out, from those with children to one all of 73
All of which explains why he is known as the king of sex change
operations in Thailand.
But Dr Preecha, 61, who has changed 3,000 males to females, prefers
the term gender reassignment surgery (GRS).
He has also done 150 cases of female-to
-male GRS, and thousands of aesthetic operations on transexuals.
CORRECTED BOTCHED JOBS
He started pioneering work in sex change operations in 1978, because
he had to correct operations botched by unqualified surgeons, he told
The New Paper on Sunday in a phone interview.
'They were general surgeons trying to do delicate surgery with no
Dr Preecha had specialised in plastic surgery for more than 10 years
before going into GRS.
He is certified to do plastic and reconstructive surgery in the US
and Australia as well as in Thailand.
He has now trained many GRS surgeons in Thailand, at the famous
Chulalongkorn Medical School.
BBC World Service recently reported that Thailand has become a centre
of global excellence in transgender surgery.
He is often invited to conduct operations or advise doctors in
countries such as China, the US and Japan.
And earlier this month, he carried out an operation watched live by
35 of the world's leading GRS doctors. They watched on wide-screen
monitors as surgeons removed a 27-year-old tour guide's testicles and
created a vaginal canal lined with the outer skin of the penis.
The delicate operation, called penile skin inversion or vaginal
plasty, took three hours. While the procedure has been called safe by
doctors, there is a risk of puncturing the rectum and bladder, which
can be fatal.
The 35 doctors had been invited to Bangkok by the Preecha Aesthetic
Institute (PAI), on the seventh floor of the 107-year-old Bangkok
Nursing Home (BNH) Hospital, for a sex reassignment workshop.
Dr Preecha said BNH Hospital also excels in fields like cardiology
and gastroenterology. But he is in the news often because of interest
in his work.
Besides doing sex-change operations three to five times a week, Dr
Preecha also does Adam's apple contouring, breast augmentation,
liposuction and other procedures listed on the PAI website.
He averages about five operations a day, working from 9am to 7pm or
He told Reuters that about 80 per cent of his clients are foreigners.
Most are from the US, where rising insurance costs and the threat of
lawsuits have pushed medical costs up.
However, there are concerns about Thailand's limited regulations on
While countries like the US require patients seeking a sex change to
have a six-month psychiatric evaluation, Thai patients need to see a
psychiatrist only once.
The psychiatrist evaluates if the patient suffers from any form of
gender identity disorder and prepares him or her on what to expect
after GRS, which is irreversible.
At PAI, which opened in BNH Hospital three years ago, patients are
referred for sex-change after they are seen by the hospital's own
PAI has 17 GRS doctors, including Dr Preecha.
He has operated on acquaintances and relatives, but not on any close
friend or family member. But he would have no qualms about doing GRS
on them, if needed.
'Yes, definitely, if they pass the psychiatric examination. Even if
it's my own son, sure,' he said.
He has three sons and a daughter, aged 28 to 32. None of them is a
Dr Preecha declined to reveal how much he earns. He would say only
that he gets a monthly salary of 200,000 baht ($8,380), in addition
to dividends as a BNH Hospital shareholder.
'My family and friends say my work is hard but I enjoy making
patients happy. They've always supported me, without question,' said
Dr Preecha who is married to a housewife.
However, other doctors were not supportive when he started on GRS.
'They didn't understand why I did this kind of work. They thought I
was just cutting off organs and that my patients were mad.'
Has anyone ever asked him if he wanted to change sex?
Laughing, Dr Preecha said: 'No, but you can ask. I still love to be a
Does he feel like he is playing God?
'No, this is just my medical profession. It's my duty to cure
diseases, whether of the body or of the mind, as much as possible in
all possible ways. I'm not trying to be a hero or anything like that
to get in the news. My aim is to make suffering patients happy,' he
said. And what does he do in his spare time? His hobby is Latin
ballroom dancing. He has even come to Suntec City to watch his
Package tour for such ops
THE Preecha Aesthetic Institute (PAI) has jumped on the medical
But while other places offer life-saving procedures, the PAI boasts a
full range of cosmetic and reconstructive surgery.
Two people a day undergo GRS there, paying the equivalent of about
$10,670 for a whole package.
Its website (www.pai.co.th) promotes special monthly packages that
include free airport pick-ups and up to five nights stay in private
hospital rooms after the surgery.
For December, a basic package costs US$8,700 ($14,340) and covers
penile skin inversion and breast augmentation.
Throw in another US$3,500, and surgeons will perform a full face lift.
The Sunday Times reported earlier this year that sex-change surgery
is widely available in Thailand, for about half of what is charged
Singaporeans who have undergone surgery can change their gender in
their passports and identity cards, but not in their birth
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