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Monday, October 4, 2010

Leah Shares Her Lipo Experience

In 1993-94, I had lost a large amount of weight (120 pounds). I was in the best shape of my life, doing things I'd never done before, enjoying life for what seemed like the first time. I had been heavy my whole life, and finally, as Oprah would say, I made the connection.  However, like most women, I still wasn’t happy.  I still had those inherited hips and inner thighs that just wouldn't budge no matter how hard I worked out.

Through my employer, a medical laboratory, I met a woman whose boyfriend, a former ER doctor, had opened a body contouring clinic, specializing in Liposuction. Turns out, she was also his partner in the clinic. She came into the office on several occasions boasting about the wonders of Liposuction, even going as far as lowering her pants to show us the almost invisible scars after her surgery. We would all sit around and muse about how wonderful it would be just to have it "sucked out," and not have to worry about it anymore. Every time she came into our office she would (for lack of a better term) bug me about making an appointment for a free consultation. Trying to be polite, I would say, "well, I'm thinking about it, but I really can't afford it." I had never really considered going through with it, but have always been the type of person that has trouble saying "no...I'm not interested."

This went on for over a year. She would offer me special financing, "just come in, we'll work it out." When I mentioned it to my now husband, he said "honey, I love you the way you are, but if this is something you'd really like to do, I'll pay for it." Now I actually didn't have any reason to keep saying no. I began to start looking at it a lot more seriously. I even went into their office for an unofficial visit. They told me what wonderful things they could do for me, that all of the loose skin I had from the weight loss would tighten up after surgery (absolutely not true). They showed me such wonderful before and after photos, and my excitement began to grow. Before you knew it, I scheduled my surgery, and began to imagine my new look.

Finally, the day came! I was so excited!! I never had any thoughts other than positive and hope filled. The surgery appeared to go off without a hitch. I remember being in a lot of pain...very uncomfortable, but that was to be expected. Even as I sat, packed in ice, swollen and miserable, I couldn't wait until I could get a good look at my new body.

As the weeks passed, there were no noticeable changes, at least not to me. I went to the doctor for post visits and measurements, and I hadn't lost any inches. It was becoming more apparent, that the surgery was a flop. I was disappointed, the doctor was disappointed and completely confounded at how he could have removed so much fat, and have what seemed to be no change. A few months later, he offered to do another procedure at no cost (the magic words). He thought that since I had lost so much weight, that this caused me to have very fibrous fat, and he had a new tool that he had been having excellent results with. Again, my excitement began to grow, and my hopes.

After the second surgery, things were much different from the first one. I was extremely weak. I couldn't even get to the bathroom by myself. The day following surgery, my husband was very concerned, and took me back into the office. They tried to get me to do all the usually post surgery exercises, but I couldn't even stand unassisted. They sent me to the lab for some blood work. Turned out that my blood counts were dangerously low. They prescribed some vitamins, and sent me home.

A week following surgery, I began to accumulate fluid in both knees. They were swelling twice their normal size. You could actually hear the fluid sloshing as I walked. I went back to the doctor, and he scratched his head, and said that's interesting. He proceeded to take a very large syringe, and extract large amounts of fluid from each knee. The fluid kept coming back. Each day, I would go back to the office to have more fluid taken out. At this point, I should have been back to work. I had just started a new job, and was feeling guilty for taking the time off for the surgery. But, with my blood counts far from normal, and the fluid in my knees, I couldn't go back when I was scheduled to return. I began to become very depressed, spending most of the time in tears. Not knowing what was happening to my body.

Finally, after two weeks, I was going to give it a shot. Even though my body was telling me, this is crazy; I couldn't take any more time off. I had drawn a nice warm bath thinking that would make me feel better, and then off to work I'd go! As I sat in the tub, I looked down at my legs, which I had assumed were bruised (very common after lipo), and the skin began to bubble up and fall off. I ran from the tub hysterical, screaming and crying that my body was falling apart. Again, I went to the doctor, with yet a new problem. He scratched his head and said, "This is amazing." After drenching the now open bleeding wounds in Neosporin, he wrapped my legs in gauze, and sent me home. This also became a part of my daily routine.

As each day passed, the wounds got blacker and blacker. The fluid kept returning to my knees, and my depression worsened. I finally did return to work, but had to take time off during the day to continue treatments. I did my best to work hard, and not to let my condition get in the way of my new job. But despite my efforts, my new coworkers were very resentful. They felt like I wasn't doing my share, even though I felt like I was going out of my way to do more.

After a month of this routine, the doctor decided to refer me to a general surgeon, who happened to be my new bosses husband (small town). He thought that I should have drains put into my legs to help with the fluid. At the first visit with the new surgeon, I thought he was going to hit the roof. He told me, "I can put drains in your legs, but this (pointing at my blackened thighs) is extremely has to come out." He explained to me that the surgery would leave me with very large scars on both legs, but we didn't have much of a choice. At this point, I was willing to do whatever if took to get well...cosmetics had gone out the window long ago. The surgery was scheduled the next day.

Several days after the surgery, it was becoming apparent that the incision was not going to heal...the staples were literally falling out. The surgeon then informed me that we hadn't gotten to viable tissue, and we would have to go back, and remove more of the damaged area. A second surgery was scheduled. This time, he would use large retention sutures to insure that the wound would close.

I was in complete denial. I couldn't even look at my legs. My husband and sister would have to do all of my wound care. As they worked on my legs, I would lay there and cry. I was finally prescribed antidepressants, which seemed to help a little. At least I didn't cry 24 hours a day, and I didn't feel quite so hopeless.

On Christmas Eve, my husband noticed the retention sutures beginning to pull through my skin, and the wound edges turning black. I refused to go to the hospital. I had already been to hell and back, and didn't want to spend Christmas in a hospital bed. The day after Christmas, I agreed to go to the emergency room, and sure enough, they admitted me. They had to do another surgery to remove more of the dead tissue. I spent the next 6 days in the hospital. They put me in a shower, and wanted me to clean the wound with a water pick. This was the first time I actually looked at my own legs. I remember sitting in the shower crying and vomiting as I attempted to clean them.

The biopsy results came back with the diagnosis "gangrene." This came as no surprise to anyone but me. I had always thought of gangrene as something that happened in wars....or from diabetes. I was in complete shock. I was sure people died from this, or lost their limbs. It was then the doctor informed me that if this condition wasn't kept under control, there was an 80% chance I could die.

The wounds still wouldn't stay closed, so it was the decision of the surgeon, to open it up, and let it heal from the inside out. This process would be very slow, and would leave me with very large scars. He would then refer me to a plastic surgeon for reconstructive surgery. 

The healing process took roughly 6 months. And what I mean by that is the closure of the open wounds. Three years post surgery; I still have chronic edema, pain due to nerves trapped in the scar tissue and loss of feeling (topically) from my stomach to my knees. The scars are very disfiguring, and my legs are very deformed. Even as I write this, it is extremely difficult. It still brings me to tears, even though it is getting easier to deal with. But I have to find the good in it...the reason why this happened to me. Because if I don't, I think I'll go insane. What I've discovered about myself so far, is that I'm a lot stronger than I ever thought I could be. That I have the ability to make changes, and to speak out and inform an otherwise uninformed public.

When people hear my story, they think it's horrible, but it was a fluke, and it would never happen to them. I wish that were true. In the state California alone, those having unfavorable results (unhappy with looks, disfigurement, and death) are higher than those with favorable results. Not great odds.

If you do decide that this is a procedure you can't live without, do your   homework!  Make sure you select a Board Certified Plastic Surgeon. Don't base your decision on price.  ASK QUESTIONS.  This is a very important decision, and shouldn't be taken lightly, no matter how easy they make it sound. 


Unfortunately, I’ve gained all my weight back, and I’m pretty much at square one.  I am definitely not proud of that, and could make many excuses for it and would probably be justified; however, I take full responsibility.  I try not to kick myself in the rear for not loving myself enough in the first place, and making what turned out to be a very crazy decision.  The weight issue is a constant battle, but one I will eventually win.  I have to.  I want my life back.   Do you realize when you are this obese, almost every decision or thought is based on your weight?  I am tired of living like this, and it’s time to take control! I'll keep you posted on the progress!  

I have also been blessed to have worked with Senator Figueroa's office. Senator Figueroa authored three bills pertaining to cosmetic surgery. I was honored to be able to testify before the California Assembly Health Committee in support of these three bills. Unfortunately, the Governor didn't sign the bill relating to education and training, but two out of three isn’t bad.  

Again, I want to thank you for taking the time to read my story, and share my experience. Feel free to email me at anytime to share your own experiences, ask a question, or just say hi!

Blessings to you all,
Leah Carlson