BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Evey Winters was born in the wrong body. She struggled with identity issues, depression, and even suicidal thoughts. But a cutting-edge surgery performed here in Maryland saved her life.

“I was in there, but that wasn’t me,” Winters said while looking at old pictures of herself.

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Evey had a traditional childhood in West Virginia. She is the oldest of six children, but she was assigned male at birth. And even at a young age, she knew that was not right.

Evey Winters shows her transition. She was assigned male at birth, but identified as female.

“According to my journals, the first time I would have been displaying anything like dysphoria, I was five,” Evey said. “I didn’t have that concept of ‘I am a girl.’ I was five years old, but I did have the concert of, like, this is wrong.”

She spent her life hiding who she truly was, pretending to be someone she was not.

“It is the cruelest pain I can think of in that you wake up every day and know something is just wrong,” she said. “Most of the time, I was just angry and suicidal. Sometimes it could get really bad.”

When Evey hit her lowest darkest point, she moved to Maryland.

“I actually moved here to kill myself. I was finally over it and I was feeling spiteful,” she said, “But I also knew I could get medical care here for my transition. And I wanted people to know who I was when I died. I didn’t want to hide that in death, too.”

Evey started hormone replacement therapy. It turned out, each change gave her a reason to live.

“I would get up and the first thing I would do is go run to the mirror just to see if something was changing on me, anything at all,” she said. “I’m watching this growth happen and it was really freeing. I say that when I started taking my HRT, I did die in a way. The me that started waking up every day was not the same me.”

So Evey said she felt excited, not nervous, about genital reconstruction.

The Medstar Center for Gender Affirmation is dedicated to transgender care. It’s one of only a few centers on the East Coast that performs “peritoneum robotic vaginoplasty.”

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“In this procedure, what we do is really recreate the vaginal canal using the peritoneum. This is sort of the wallpaper inside someone’s abdomen,” said

Medstar’s plastic and reconstructive surgeon Dr. Gabriel Del Corral

. “And the external part is using a portion of the remaining male genitalia to form the vulva or vagina externally.”

Dr. Del Corral said this innovative procedure requires two surgeons and robotic expertise. He calls the surgery life-changing.

“Patients go through so much before they come into this office. They go through mental health evaluation, hormone therapy, life changes for many, many years. So this is really the last step,” he said. “So many patients describe this as a rebirth, a new experience for them of something that they always wanted.”

A few months after her surgery, Evey is recovering well.

“There was a lot of pain. There was a lot of pain,” she said. “But there wasn’t a moment it wasn’t worth it to me.”

Evey is in a loving relationship and said most of her family supports her. She is also a trans advocate and educator. Evey is currently writing a guidebook for trans kids that explains coping techniques, ways to tell your family and medical options.

“I look into the future and I feel happy about it,” Evey said. And even right now, I’m happy. Even when I’m sad, I’m still happy.”

She said she feels enormous relief. Evey looks at her body and finally feels safe.

“I feel proud of me. I did it, you know?” Winters said. “I made it.”

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For more information on the Medstar Center for Gender Affirmation, click here.

Linh Bui