Plastic Surgery: Helping you Get Comfortable in Your Own Skin

Plastic Surgery: Helping you Get Comfortable in Your Own Skin

We told you about Tallahassee resident Charlene Hinson’s successful bariatric surgery. She lost 155 pounds and kept it off. But two years after the surgery, she still felt obese.

“I had all this loose skin under my arms. It was hard to find a blouse to fit,” she says. “In fact, I still saw myself as a fat person.”

Because skin does not contract during extreme weight loss, Hinson had saggy, hanging skin as a reminder of her obese days. Reconstructive surgery could remove the excessive skin, but she found that her insurance wouldn’t cover the cost.

“Unfortunately, in many cases, the person who has lost the weight takes on the responsibility to cover the cost of that surgery,” Hinson says. “I think it’s an absolute shame that insurance companies won’t recognize this as part of the bariatric procedure. My mother passed away and left me an inheritance. That was the only way I was able to pay for my surgery.”

Hinson had her upper arms and breasts reconstructed by Dr. Ben Kirbo of Southeastern Plastic Surgery in Tallahassee. He says that even if Hinson hadn’t had an inheritance, his practice would have worked with her to finance the operation. He knows how important the procedure is to patients such as Hinson and says it was wonderful to help complete her metamorphosis.

“The sense of satisfaction is incredible when treating these patients who have experienced dramatic weight loss,” he said. “You are literally participating in a transformation, both physically and emotionally. Like Charlene, they are generally extremely appreciative for what you have done.”

Hinson says she finally could celebrate her weight loss after the surgery.

“The reconstructive surgery was definitely a stepping stone. It made all the difference for me personally,” she recalls. “It wasn’t until after that that I said, ‘Gosh, there’s a small person here.’  It made a big difference for me, and I think it would for anyone.”

Each bariatric patient has very different needs, and a number of reconstructive surgeries may be required. These include abdominoplasty (tummy tuck), breast lift or reduction, thigh lift, brachioplasty (reduction in the upper arm and axilla region) or a buttocks lift.

Hinson held off on having the procedure until she knew that she was at a weight that she could maintain.

“I waited two years,” she says. “They recommend that you wait until your weight plateaus or evens out. On average, most people will gain back at least 10 percent of their weight. You need to have the procedure only when you are sure that’s the weight you’re going to stay at. Dr. Kirbo made my arms very small. If I gained a lot of weight, those scars would stretch.”

Dr. Kirbo says someone considering having plastic surgery done needs to do research.

“My advice to patients is to educate themselves on procedure risk and make sure your surgeon has significant experience in dealing with these unique patients,” he says. “By and large, the risk is minimal. Healing issues concern me the most. Usually multiple visits are necessary, depending on the area treated. Usually one form of minor touch-up is necessary.”

Another plastic surgeon, Dr. Larry Harper of Tallahassee Plastic Surgery Clinic, says each procedure has inherent risks.

“These include risks which are present with all surgeries, such as infection, bleeding, hematoma or seroma (swelling),” he says. “Risks which are more specifically related
to bariatric procedures can include wound healing problems and scarring.”

Dr. Harper says these reconstructive surgeries have a profound impact on his patients’ lives.

“I have one patient who is a male corrections officer who has lost about 150 pounds and was left with multiple skin folds of the abdomen, breasts, thighs and arms,” he says. “This gentleman suffered from frequent skin-fold infections (intertrigo). He has now undergone reduction of his excess abdominal skin and excess breast skin. This has significantly improved his lifestyle and also his ability to perform his job.”

Plastic surgeons such as Dr. Harper and Dr. Kirbo often find they form friendships.

“The rewards in medicine in general are great,” Dr. Harper says. “Specifically related to post bariatric surgery, I feel these are a very appreciative group of patients, and I frequently become very close to them. Remember, these patients ‘need’ this surgery – you can lose weight, but you cannot lose skin. I find that patients feel these procedures give them an enormous improvement in both lifestyle and sense of body image.”

If you are considering a skin-reduction procedure, seek out a board-certified plastic surgeon who performs these procedures. Educate yourself and make sure that you fully understand the risks and benefits.

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