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Clinic Helps San Diego Transgender Youth

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Bruce Jenner's transition to Caitlyn Jenner has raised awareness for the transgender community and will play out on a reality television series later this summer.

The spotlight misses most people who are struggling with gender identity, especially those who are still kids.

In San Diego, a clinic at Rady Children's Hospital helps children who are experiencing gender identity issues, or "gender dysphoria," when a person's biological gender and gender identity do not match.

Doctors have seen 80 patients since the clinic opened in 2012. Dr. Mara Marinkovic, an endocrinologist with the clinic, said on KPBS Midday Edition Monday her colleagues across the nation are seeing referrals surge as a result of the media focus on transgender people. She said parents and psychologists are more aware of the diagnosis.

"For some people, they're starting to feel uncomfortable, but they can't really say what it is," said Dr. Ron Newfield, another endocrinologist at Rady. "A lot of times the parents will also feel there's something not quite the same as other children, that there's something there."

The uncertainty, Newfield said, can make trans youth more prone to depression.

They also are at increased risk of suicide, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last month, a 14-year-old boy became the third transgender teen to commit suicide in San Diego County this year.

A common treatment at the Rady clinic — puberty blocker medications — gives children and their family time to come to terms with the diagnosis and chart a course of action.

Newfield and Marinkovic said they cannot prescribe puberty blockers without parental permission and do not recommend gender reassignment surgery until teens turn 18 or are heading to college.

Newfield said the medication itself can bring a lot of relief to the child. It temporarily halts the development of "wrong body," or growth with which the child doesn't identify.

"It's very rewarding to see those patients brighten up," said Newfield of teens on the medication. "Parents will say, 'We got our child back.'"

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