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Leo is in pain most of the time. His back hurts badly when he stands up or walks. It is a hard life for a teenager, and he has no idea if the agony will ever go away.

Nor does his mother Natalie, grief-stricken about the suffering of her child who was born a girl and, at the tender age of ten, said his dream was to be a boy.

‘Leo was little when she wanted to become a he,’ says Natalie. ‘I thought if this was his wish, I should agree with it. Everyone said Leo was brave to come out [as transgender] and I should be proud of him.’

Thinking she was doing the best for him, Natalie took Leo to one of the best hospitals in Europe where, at 11, doctors tried to make his wish come true. 

They put him on hormones to stop his body developing into womanhood, with breasts, widening hips and periods. It was the beginning of a frantic course of treatment to make him a man.

Today, the teenager is at the heart of a worldwide debate over one of the most contentious medical issues of our times: giving puberty blockers to children.

As more and more countries, including Britain, begin to debate the rights and wrongs of pumping such powerful drugs into young bodies, the spotlight has fallen on Leo, who lives in Sweden’s capital Stockholm.

Fighting for justice: Keira Bell, 24, a high-profile British case who was given puberty blockers as a teenager after a mere three hours of consultation at the Tavistock Clinic, London, which runs England’s only NHS gender identity development service (GIDS) (pictured outside court in London in 2020)

Fighting for justice: Keira Bell, 24, a high-profile British case who was given puberty blockers as a teenager after a mere three hours of consultation at the Tavistock Clinic, London, which runs England’s only NHS gender identity development service (GIDS) (pictured outside court in London in 2020)

Fighting for justice: Keira Bell, 24, a high-profile British case who was given puberty blockers as a teenager after a mere three hours of consultation at the Tavistock Clinic, London, which runs England’s only NHS gender identity development service (GIDS) (pictured outside court in London in 2020)

A groundbreaking investigation by the state-run television channel has revealed he is one of 13 transgender children of the 440 treated by the country’s famous Karolinska University Hospital who are known to have suffered catastrophic injuries as a result.

Their ailments include liver damage, unexplained weight gains of up to two stone, mental health problems, and — in Leo’s case — skeletal damage and a failure to grow as tall as he should.

He has spinal fractures and a condition called osteopenia, which weakens the bones, making them more liable to break. It is a disease that you often see in people aged 60 or 70 and is almost impossible to reverse. 

The Swedish TV revelations, which were not denied by doctors treating Leo, caused uproar.

After the film aired, the Karolinska reported itself to the national health authorities, and announced it had stopped prescribing puberty blockers to under-18s other than in a strictly-regulated research setting approved by ethics experts.

This led to the country’s national health board curtailing the administering of blockers to under-18s, with the admission that they carry risks that outweigh the benefits.

One of Sweden’s leading paediatricians, Ricard Nergardh, has said the drugs ‘chemically castrate’ children and can harm their mental wellbeing.

The television investigation claimed the hospital — which oversees the country’s identity development services for transgender children, and operates under the acronym KIDS — has rushed through treatments without examining the psychological issues of children who feel they were ‘born into the wrong body’.

It discovered that girls as young as 14 had received double mastectomies in their quest to live as boys.

Importantly, Sweden’s health chiefs say the high-profile British case of 24-year-old Keira Bell influenced their decision to halt the use of puberty blockers. 

She was given them as a teenager after a mere three hours of consultation at the Tavistock Clinic, London, which runs England’s only NHS gender identity development service (GIDS).

Keira, who lived as a man but has now de-transitioned to become a woman, told the Mail she fears she has been made infertile by the drugs she was given. 

She hopes to persuade the Supreme Court — England’s most powerful judicial body — to rule that children under the age of 16 are not mature enough to give their consent to puberty blockers.

She said recently: ‘A global conversation has begun over these drugs. It is a doctor’s fantasy that a child as young as ten can consent to them or the loss of their future fertility.’

This month Health Secretary Sajid Javid launched a review into the use of puberty blockers in this country. He believes youngsters are wrongly being given them by the NHS and hopes it will lead to a new, safer way of helping those who question their gender identity.

‘Mental health, bullying and previous sexual assault are just some of the issues that could be causing problems for the child,’ he said. 

‘This approach where people just accept what a child says, almost automatically, and then start talking about puberty blockers, that’s not in the child’s interests at all.’

Mr Javid fears the issue is ideological: akin to the cover-up of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, where the authorities failed to take into account the ethnicity of the perpetrators because they believed it would be perceived as racist.

In the case of blockers, Javid says a fear of being branded ‘transphobic’ is encouraging doctors into giving children the drugs.

The Government is to demand access to the medical records of English children who have received them to assess what has happened to their health afterwards — and to find out if they regretted the treatment.

A little-publicised report on puberty blockers, released by the Tavistock Clinic two years ago, showed some children had signs of stunted height and thinned bone density compared with their peers who had not taken them.

But Leo’s tragedy is sounding an international alarm. The TV team that exposed his plight is certain that there are more victims than the 13 they found. 

Finland has announced puberty blockers should not be the treatment of first resort for children who want to change gender. Instead, they should be offered psychotherapy.

In France, the National Academy of Medicine has told doctors that the high number of young transgender children is often fuelled by the influence of social media and advised that great caution should be exercised when treating them.

The academy stressed that hormone treatments carry health risks, have permanent effects, and that it is not possible to distinguish a genuine transgender desire in an adolescent from a ‘passing phase’ that occurs during the process of growing up.

It added that many children are being pushed on to the trans pathway too quickly and that, as young adults, they wish to turn the clock back and de-transition.

But of all the nations having a re-think, liberal Sweden is the most surprising. In the decade up to 2019, Sweden saw a 1,500 per cent rise in girls between 13 and 17 suffering from gender dysphoria and requesting hormone treatment to become boys. 

The country followed the Dutch protocol for gender hormone treatments of under-18s who feel they are ‘in the wrong body’.

It was developed in 1991 after a 13-year-old girl in Holland persuaded a doctor to halt her puberty with drugs that stopped her periods and arrested her breast development, as well as other physical manifestations of becoming a woman.

When, three years later, the girl said she wanted to be a real man, the Amsterdam Gender Clinic moved her on from the pioneering puberty blockers to so-called cross-sex hormones, such as testosterone, which gives men their facial hair, Adam’s apple, deeper voice and muscular build. 

This was seen as a remarkable breakthrough for trans people whose most heartfelt desire was to ‘pass’ as the opposite sex.

The Dutch protocol was quickly adopted by gender clinics worldwide, even in a cautious Britain, which at first refused to prescribe blockers to under-15s. 

But with very vocal political campaigners arguing that to deny them to children was transphobic, this country’s medical establishment acquiesced too.

A massive escalation followed, with no fewer than 2,660 under-18 referrals to the Tavistock’s GIDS department in the year to March 2020. This dramatic jump, from a few hundred a year a decade earlier, was mainly a result of girls wanting to become boys.

Britain, amongst other counties, has began debating the rights and wrongs of pumping powerful puberty blockers into young bodies, including some catastrophic injuries (pictured, a scene from the ground-breaking TV investigation on Swedish state television)

Britain, amongst other counties, has began debating the rights and wrongs of pumping powerful puberty blockers into young bodies, including some catastrophic injuries (pictured, a scene from the ground-breaking TV investigation on Swedish state television)

Britain, amongst other counties, has began debating the rights and wrongs of pumping powerful puberty blockers into young bodies, including some catastrophic injuries (pictured, a scene from the ground-breaking TV investigation on Swedish state television)

Puberty blockers today are sold as a ‘pause button’ on puberty, offering a child the breathing space to reach a considered decision over whether to proceed with cross-sex hormones and sex-change surgery to achieve full transition.

Their supporters say it is better to stop puberty altogether. If you never develop a beard, you never need painful electrolysis to remove it. If you never grow breasts, you will never face a double mastectomy. But puberty blockers are powerful drugs. And very little research anywhere in the world has been done on what impact they have on a young body.

When the Swedish TV researchers took Leo’s bone density tests and X-rays to the country’s leading child hormone specialist Ola Nilsson, he was shocked at what he saw.

‘It looks as if this patient has spinal fractures and that’s serious,’ the doctor said. ‘There is cause to be worried. If you are on puberty blockers for a long time, there is a risk of bone damage,’

According to the tests, Leo’s bones had become porous, two of his vertebrae had changed shape and he was suffering from osteopenia, a forerunner to osteoporosis in which the back can become permanently curved, there is height loss, and it is easy to break your limbs.

Crucially, according to the TV investigation, his medical team had never checked his bones, although he took puberty blockers from the age of 11 to 15, double the recommended time period of two years.

This is, of course, horrifying. But it is Leo, living with his family in a middle-class part of Stockholm, who has borne the brunt of this puberty blocker experiment.

His mother Natalie, a married public sector manager in her 40s (who wishes to keep her identity anonymous to protect her son from transgender activists), says now: ‘Leo was happy at first. The school was very supportive and changed his name on the shelf. He wanted everyone to know he was a boy as soon as possible.’

But soon after starting the treatment, he became depressed and unhappy. He began refusing to go to class, saying he was tired during the day — and his situation soon became graver still.

‘His mental health got worse and worse,’ she has recalled. ‘He attempted suicide several times. We couldn’t understand why. He was meant to be getting better from the treatment. We just kept hoping he would.’ 

Then the aches in Leo’s body began. At first he didn’t say much to his parents.

Worried, they asked him outright how he was feeling. He answered that he was in pain ‘all the time’, says Natalie.

It was in his hips, his upper and lower back, his shoulders. ‘My son shouldn’t be this way at his age,’ she told the TV programme. ‘He should not have to live with this.’

Now, she is considering whether to sue the Swedish health authorities who gave Leo puberty blockers. ‘Of course I feel anger towards those I trusted,’ she said.

She means the doctors who put him on the strong drugs, then failed to test him ‘for years’, and so didn’t discover his irreversible bone damage.

Above all, she never wants other families and their children to turn to the medical world for help only to find themselves let down so badly.

But it is the postscript to Leo’s story that raises the biggest question mark over the rush for puberty blockers.

He has been taken off the blockers and, as a result, his body has turned back to being a girl’s with all the signs of puberty you would expect.

He is no longer depressed. He has gone back happily to school, and while he is not strong enough to take part in a sports match, life has become sweet again.

At the moment, he still presents himself as a boy. But he does not get upset if he is called by his previous girl’s name. Now 16, he is working out for himself what gender he wants to be without drugs coursing through his body.

Perhaps it is his mother who is now suffering the most from what has happened. She feels responsible for what Leo has gone through and finds it impossible to forgive herself: ‘I am the one who should have protected my child, but I did not do that in any way.’

Source: DailyMail

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