Pioneers in medicine: Dr. Stanley Biber, Surgeon

19 Feb

Dr. Stanley Biber wore many hats during his long life as a man and a practitioner of medicine. Accolades were showered upon him his entire career for everything from the procedures that wouuld be considered routine to those that are far more exotic. Dr. Biber is not a household name outside of a small segment of society to whom he is both a pioneer and a hero, which is the transsexual population. Long before television networks were running documentaries and programs like Sex Change Hospital, Dr. Biber was changing the lives of thousands of male to female (MTF) transsexuals every year performing Gender/Sexual Reassignment Surgery (GRS/SRS) with such skill and in such large numbers that his adopted hometown of Trinidad, Colorado became known as the “Sex change capitol of the world.”

On May 4, 1923, Stanley H. Biber was born in Des Moines. Iowa. His father owned a furniture store while his mother concerned herself with carrying the banner of social causes, particularly those assoiciated with human equality, something she seems to have passed on to her son. Like many Jewish fathers of the time, Stanley’s father had hoped he would become a rabbi, and for a brief period of time so did Stanley. However when America entered into World War II Stanley put that desire and his secondary dream of becoming a concert pianist on hold and took a position with the Office of Strategic Services. The experience changed his life and after the war Stanley planned to become a psychiatrist. As fate would have it while attending the University of Iowa Medical School he again changed his mind and graduated with an M.D. in 1948 planing to be a general practitioner.

The next phase of Dr. Biber’s life led him to the Panama Canal Zone where he began performing surgeries while a resident. This was something that was driven by need more than choice and Dr. Biber proved to have great hands and instincts which instantly identified him as an excellent candidate to become a surgeon rather than a general practioner. Upon leaving Panama, Dr. Biber enlisted in the Army and served in a MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) while in Korea, the type made famous by the television show of the same name without the plethora of zany hijinks, but the all too real challenges and stresses of combat medicine. Biber proved his worth and was named Chief Surgeon during his tour before finishing his enlistment at Fort Carson Colorado. After discharging he moved to Trinidad, Colorado where he worked at the United Mine Workers Clinic in 1954.

Dr. Biber practiced medicine in Trinidad for 15 years doing everything from treating colds, delivering children and performing surgeries. Whatever was needed he did without every feeling any ailment was beneath his stature. He took the Hippocratic Oath very seriosly and felt as a doctor and a man it was his duty to ease suffering in anyone he could. As such when a person approached him in 1969 asking if he could perform the MTF GRS procedure he said he wasn’t sure, but would investigate it and see if he felt he could. Dr. Biber spent much of his free time examining diagrams of the procedure from the surgeons at Johns Hopkins as that was really all that was available to use as a guide at the time.

As Dr. Biber related later in life about that first exchange he had no idea it would be so significant. He even admitted that when that first patient approached him and said “I’m a transsexual” he didn’t even know what a transsexual was. What he did know was he felt the procedure was something he could do as he said “Because I was young, I felt I could do any surgery.” There were two things he realized immediately, the first of which was that the Nuns at St, Raphael Hospital where he performed the first an subsequent surgeries may not approve, so they were conducted in secret until that was no longer possible. The second was that the GRS procedure seemed like something that could be done better.

He later stated that much to his amazement there was no opposition when the cat got out of the bag. With some small but significant changes to the MTF procedure, Dr. Biber was providing better nerve retention and health than was previosuly present in such surgeries. As such the clitoris of the neo-vagina was far more sensate and allowed the abiltiy to orgasm in a far higher percentage of patients than had previously been achieved. It wasn’t just that however which made Dr. Biber in demand, or the fact that there were only a handful of surgeons in the world performing the procedure, it was said he had an eye for creating a vagina that looked like a vagina and not simply a hole.

As such people flocked to him from around the world. At the height of his practice performing up to four of these procedures each week was not at all unusal. As time moved on he even began performing the female to male (FTM) procedure completing around 300 of those. While performing all these surgeries Dr. Biber continued to carry the full workload of his regular practice as well. Things however were not all sunshine and roses for Dr. Biber. he was refused insurance, he was admonished by the Colorado Medical Society for what they considered poor record keeping, and was even threatened with the possibility of losing his license. While the residents of Trinidad embraced his practice and the patients he saw who were affectionately known as “Biber girls” society as a whole was not in agreement.

Dr. Biber claimed to have treated someone of every race, age range, and socioeconomic segment of society except for a world leader. While the actual amount of GRS procedures he performed is unknown as many were performed in strict confidnce and kept off the records as much as possible, the range of at least 3,500 MTF procedures and 300 FTM procedures is undisputed. Dr. Biber himself said the number of MTF procedures he performed was more like 5,000. At one point it was believed and generally accepted by his peers performing these procdures that around 2/3 of all MTF procedures in the world were performed by Dr. Biber.

Even in semi-retirement Dr. Biber continued performing one GRS procedure a week as he was always in demand, and continued to do so even at 80 years old. To ease his transition into retirement he took on Dr. Marci Bowers as his apprentice and taught her all he knew about the procedure. As fate would have it, Dr. Bowers is a “Biber girl’ herself, and is the only transsexual in the world perfoming the procedure. In keeping with Dr. Biber’s tradition she pracrices in Trinidad, Colorado as he did and is the star if you will of the WE telvison network’s program Sex Change Hospital which chronichle’s the process for a new patient each week.

As skilled a healer as Dr. Biber was even he could not avoid death and passed away on January 19, 2006. He left behind a legacy of compassion that changed and saved the lives of thousands of people. It is in large part due to his willingness to help such people that most surgeons shunned, that today countless people around the world receive the procedure he refined which technology improved. Dr. Biber was more than surgeon, he was a humanitairan, an innovater, and a hero to the transsexual community all because he believed in two things; people that need to be healed should be healed, and that he could do it better.

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