Top Surgery with Dr. Gallagher Almost Cost Me My Life

Rylan
9 min readNov 22, 2022

CW: Graphic medical images (some pictured in the article and some behind clickable links), fatphobia, gaslighting

In August of 2022, I flew to Miami, Florida to get top surgery from Dr. Sidhbh Gallagher.

3 weeks later, a local surgeon had to rush me in to remove over half a foot of dead, rotting tissue. Gallagher dismissed every concern, including hollow cavities that formed on my ripped-open incision.

I got top surgery (with the request to go totally flat) on August 5th. I went out of state and paid over $20k for both the surgery and the trip itself. She’s one of the only gender surgeons with no BMI cap in my country. She also does drainless, which she says prevents swelling. (There is mixed science out on this method and, to this day, I still see it as a personal choice.)

Complications started 4 days after surgery, a hematoma on my left side that I sent her a photo of. I cannot describe the discomfort. Scabs were starting to collect from leaking blood.

She said it was just “bruising.” The next day, my incision tore open and bled significantly. It was agony. I went in for my post-op appointment the day before I flew home, anxious for a solution.

She told me there was nothing to do, that it would need to drain on its own.

Her team then blamed my weight and said this happens to “bigger guys.” They even had some cutesy nickname for it… a “blowhole.” She joked that I was on my period.

I bled through my clothes and onto her exam room table as she minimized everything.

I was confused, because her TikTok page has videos where she says she’s never had an incision break. I asked her if going back in and adding a drain would help. She said no. I asked if I should use compression. She said no, and that I could even throw out the binder from surgery.

I flew home to Ohio in extreme pain, feeling the tightness of my left side’s incision, bleeding through my clothes on the airplane. The bleeding continued long into my adjustment home. It became near-constant, intensifying even after much of the bruising had went away. I was bed-ridden, watching things get worse and worse, but I wanted to keep trusting her.

By August 27th, I was still waking up every morning with blood all over my sheets and clothes. Wrapped in layers of gauze, I tried going out to see some friends, moving slowly and carefully. While out, a coagulated blood clot the size of a golf ball fell out of me. In public. I was rushed to the ER.

On the way to the hospital, I sent Dr. Gallagher photos of the clot and told her about the severity of the bleeding. When I got to the ER, my heart rate was 155. They paged their plastic surgery team immediately and admitted me. They took off the gauze and another clot fell out.

My incision had ripped open more and was filled with blood. Another area farther back was preparing to tear too. I was splitting open and, within days, those two holes would both become gaping abscesses.

The plastic surgery resident on-call took a photo and advised me to email it to my surgeon. They explained to me how to discern between signs of an infection and my regular fibromyalgia symptoms. The resident also asked if I still had my binder for compression. No. I’d thrown it out.

I emailed the new photo of my incision to Dr. Gallagher before she’d gotten a chance to reply to my previous email. She’d received the two emails, the blood clot and the new photo of the wound, in the middle of the night. I got home at 5am, exhausted and in unspeakable pain.

The next day, I woke up to an email response from her assistant telling me that Gallagher said this was expected.

She said “no need for the ER.” I replied back and said I already went to the ER. She made the same joke again, that I was menstruating.

I spent the rest of the night feeling an awful tearing sensation every time I even turned my body. I will never be able to describe the physical pain, or the fear I felt. I was already 3 weeks post-op and I could still barely do any tasks on my own due to immobility.

The next morning, I tried to change the gauze on my side, as my boyfriend and I had been doing 3 times a day for weeks, and I saw that the hole in my incision had collapsed into a hollow, black cavity. Brown and dark yellow tissue was spilling slightly out of it. It had a putrid smell.

I took photos, shaking, of what I saw, and emailed them to Dr. Gallagher. I asked for help, but a part of me knew I couldn’t trust her anymore.

I reached out to another top surgeon, showed their team my pictures, and they squeezed me in for an appointment first thing in the morning. The wound broke open even more, creating one of the most graphic injuries I’ve ever seen, but she never saw that.

The top surgeon there assessed me and said he instantly knew I had a severe infection by sight alone. He took a culture swab, but gave me his best guess of antibiotics. The doctor also explained that drainless, especially for fat patients, can cause an increased risk of swelling, hematoma, and wound dehiscence.

He then said that I would need surgery, quickly, to fix this, and that a drain would be added on my left side during the operation.

When I got home, I finally heard back from Dr. Gallagher. She saw the photo of the abscess, of my incision in the process of tearing open completely, of all the discolored tissue inside the wound, and said this:

This is when I stopped replying. I have not contacted her since.

I went under anesthesia 3 days later and woke up to a nurse telling me I could’ve gone septic without the surgery. Over half a foot of my left side had been killed by a bacteria that has a high mortality rate.

When I saw the photo of what they removed, it dawned on me what would’ve happened if I’d listened to Dr. Gallagher.

My new doctor also told me that we got lucky, as his best guess of antibiotics targets the precise type of infection I had. If we’d guessed wrong, it would’ve had several extra days to spread through my body, potentially coming into contact with more vital organs and systems.

On the 1 month anniversary of my top surgery, I was also 3 days post-op. I hate that this is an unchangeable fact about my life. The drain I was given during the second surgery was larger than what people usually get for a double mastectomy.

I had to have that drain for over 3 weeks.

My old incision was cut out and reworked, given giant nylon stitches that later had to be removed manually. Every chapter of this story is soaked in physical and psychological pain. The countless patterned hospital gowns reminded me of hotel carpets. Always different. Always taking me away from home.

Gallagher still hadn’t checked in with me by the time I got that drain out. She still hasn’t. She never will. In the wise words of the surgeon who saved my life, “she doesn’t give a shit about you.”

Top surgery is meant to be an act of self-love. Instead, I had to survive it.

I took the advice of a nurse on my new team and reached out to the top medical malpractice laywer in Miami. He heard my case and said it sounded promising. After telling my story, he did some typing and gave me some of the worst news of my life.

Dr. Gallagher opted out of medical malpractice insurance years ago. Suing her is near impossible for me. Even if I found a lawyer in Florida who was willing to try other strategies, it’s unlikely they’d be supportive of medical transition in the first place. The payout would not be enough to cover the cost of the case for a law firm, so laywers are highly unlikely to help me sue her without that insurance. I was told she likely utilizes this loophole on purpose, knowing it leaves her victims powerless.

To make matters worse, as the swelling finally went down, I watched my right side begin to look flat, just like I wanted, but the left side did not do the same.

She left so much tissue that I still can’t wear certain t-shirts, even ones I’d been saving for after top surgery.

Since posting my story on other social media platforms, I’ve had countless former patients of hers reach out to me with harrowingly similar stories. Many of them, including myself, needed an intervention from a secondary healthcare provider to avoid either death or more harm.

Many people also had nightmarish experiences at the hospital she operates in, Coral Gables. My own experience with them was an entirely separate trauma, but it ended with an apology letter arriving to my house addressed to “Rylo” for the fact that they consistently denied me pain medication upon waking up, saying I should be “crying happy tears instead,” simply because it was a gender affirming surgery. I had to beg several times for any form of care, all while they misgendered me. Gallagher even witnessed a nurse call me “she” and said nothing at all.

When I arrived home, the hospital she works with sent me an additional bill for over $102k. When I contacted Dr. Gallagher’s office about it, they told me to take it up with the hospital.

Due to the size of her platform, I am scared to be speaking out, but nothing she does to me can be worse than watching my own body split open and begin to rot while being told everything looked fine.

I can’t get legal justice. I can’t undo the past. All I have is the ability to tell my story. I consented to a major surgery, knowing complications were possible. What I did not consent to was life-threatening neglect, overt gaslighting, and severe medical trauma that I will never fully recover from.

Every day I wake up and feel two things. First, relief that I had top surgery, that I get to exist more comfortably as a man in the world. Second, grief for the experience I will never get. The trans people close to me had to witness so much. We haven’t even gotten to celebrate.

This was not the one-time mistake of an otherwise attentive, knowledgeable surgeon. This is a pattern, one she knows about and consistently seeks to hide.

My only desire is to keep the trans community safe. There are so many trustworthy top surgeons in the world. One of them saved my life. Transition is a beautiful, deeply personal process rooted in bodily autonomy and self-determination. All trans people deserve safe access to it.

I do not regret top surgery.

I regret choosing Dr. Gallagher as my surgeon.

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