Choosing to have plastic surgery in a foreign country increases your risks exponentially, not only because of the uncertainty with regards to the qualifications and experience of the surgeon you end up with, but the unknown of where the surgery will be performed and the lack of after-surgery care. Unfortunately, so many are lured by the promise of an overseas holiday combined with cheaper surgery prices; but we hear so many stories of botched surgeries, and in some cases patients have paid the ultimate price with their life. One of the main things we always say here at the Hub is that we have some world class plastic surgeons here in Australia, so why would you go anywhere else? Of course, in some cases, there is more to the story, and Penny’s* story is one of these.
We want to thank Penny* for sharing her story, and think she is so brave for coming through her journey with such strength and grace.
Q: What motivated you to have plastic surgery?
I chose to have plastic surgery because I was unhappy with the shape and firmness of my breasts. I had my first child when I was 18 and gained a lot of weight during the pregnancy. I lost the weight quickly but my breasts remained quite large. Having said that though, they did remain firm for a long time because for some reason, I never stopped lactating after I had my second child even though I only breast fed her for 7 months. I eventually was told by a doctor that I needed to have my milk ducts removed to stop the lactating which I did. My breasts became very saggy after that procedure.
Q: What led to your decision to have your surgery overseas?
I chose to have the surgery overseas after having three bad experiences in Western Australia. Two with Perth breast surgeons as well as a bad tummy tuck done when I lived in country WA.
The tummy tuck was done by a general surgeon in 2002 when I lived in the country south of Perth. I was in for another surgical procedure and did not know he was going to give me a tummy tuck as well. When I saw him the morning after the surgery I was told he had decided to ‘tidy up my stomach’ by giving me a tummy tuck. The result of that was a long time of extreme pain once the epidural was taken out. Apart from having a very thick, crooked scar that extends onto the sides of both hips and even down onto one leg, I also lost the feeling in the top of my left leg after the surgery, which has never fully returned.
Well it was flat but tidy it wasn’t.
The next surgery was in 2007. I had a bilateral duct removal and I was barely able to move my arms for nearly two weeks. 24 hours after surgery I was in extreme pain and my breasts were bright red and engorged. I was unable to consult with the surgeon as he had gone overseas and he had not left me with details of anyone else I could contact. I consulted with a GP and was diagnosed with Mastitis. When I did eventually see the surgeon 4 weeks later, he was unsympathetic about my complications and dismissive. I was left with a cavity where the milk ducts had been and later found out that the surgeon was a plastic surgeon and did actually specialise in breast implants however, he never discussed that option prior to doing the duct removal. Having said that though, considering I did get an infection maybe it was a good thing I didn’t do it then.
The third bad experience was a few years after the milk duct removal, I consulted with a plastic surgeon in West Perth in order to find out if I was eligible to have a breast lift and implants because I was becoming increasingly unhappy with the shape of my breasts as they had become very saggy to the point that they would roll out of my bra or bather tops if I bent over. I wanted to be firm though I did not want to be smaller. I can’t recall the surgeon’s name however; when I went to his practice I never met the actual surgeon. I was met by his understudy instead. The understudy told me that the surgeon no longer did breast lifts as they were too time consuming and would only offer me implants. She then whispered to me that I should go elsewhere as I really did need a breast lift. The price I was given to have implants only was $15,000+. It was a strange consultation and left me feeling somewhat distrustful of surgeons in Perth. My impression was that they were more interested in the money than achieving a positive result for the patient.
After speaking to others who had gone to Thailand for surgery, I decided to contact one of the beauty tours to find out whether or not I could get the surgery done there and how much it would cost. I emailed photos of my breasts and also my nose as I had a deviated septum and thought it would be better to get them both done at once.
The return email was apparently from the surgeon although I now doubt that, saying that I needed a lift and implants which would cost $6000 and Rhinoplasty which would cost $3000. All up with the flights and accommodation and two surgical procedures it was going to cost as much as getting implants alone with the West Perth surgeon. So it was the cost savings that made me take up that option as much as my belief that Thailand surgery was as safe and good as it is in Australia. Hind sight is a wonderful thing though!
Q: Can you tell us what went wrong in your initial surgery and give us a bit of a step by step of your part in the process?
Right from when I arrived in Thailand and was due to see the surgeon things started to go wrong. On arrival in Thailand the pre surgery surgeon’s appointment was apparently not booked in and I was also told that I did not have a booking for the actual surgical procedures either. I had to haggle to get in to see the surgeon and I ended up having to extend my stay as the surgery did not happen for several days. When I met the breast surgeon he tried to talk me out of having any implants at all and said I should only have a breast lift. I did not want to be any smaller than I was though.
After the consultation the surgeon advised that the cost of my surgery for my breasts was going to be $6000 but originally the quoted amount had been $4500 for breast lift and implants. It made no difference to the surgeon or the beauty tour organisers that I had a quote provided. It was a matter of, you pay or no surgery. It was a concern that it was going to cost me $1500 more, especially as the cost of my accommodation and meals was approximately $1000 more than expected, because I had to stay an extra week. I heard other ladies getting upset as they were being told the cost of their surgery was going to be double the cost of their original quotes.
The nose surgery went very well and I had no complications. My breast surgery however was a different story. I went into the operating theatre at 4pm and my first recollection of waking up was 12.30am. However, I am sure I was awake before then but can’t remember anything. I was unable to even lift my hands or arms due to the amount of pain I felt. I could not move out of bed. They had catheterised me and made me remain in bed for two days. I was told to start massaging my breasts on day two. This consisted of me placing a hand over each and pushing down hard. I was told to do this every hour for 30 seconds at a time. It was so painful I struggled to do it at first.
I was discharged on day three and could barely move without extreme pain in my chest though I was not surprised by that. I did say to the surgeon that the shape of my breasts was strange. I could tell the implants were very high and already rock hard and yet the lower part of my breast was quite saggy still. He said I had to wait until the implants moved into place. This was the common response whenever I raised the issue and I raised the issue often, even after coming home. I sent pictures of my breasts asking the surgeon if everything was ok because the shape was strange and my nipples were not symmetrical. They were too close together and one was just a smidgeon higher than the other.
I ended up getting infections in the sutures around the nipples and under my breasts three months after surgery and I had sutures that would come out of the sores that appeared. The scars ended up being very thick and incredibly sore and were that way for over 18 months. It was almost 2 years since the original surgery was actually done when I had the corrective procedure done.
Q: When did you realise that things weren’t right?
As soon as the bandages were taken off I could tell my breasts were not right but the surgeon kept telling me I had to wait for them to settle and that the shape etc would all be ok after some time, which never happened. They just became worse over time.
Q: Did you try to contact your surgeon in Thailand, and if so, what was their response?
I could only contact the surgeon through the beauty tour consultant by either email or by phoning the consultant. I could not ever get in direct contact with the doctor. Before I went over I was led to believe I would have regular Skype catch ups with my surgeon but they never happened. I did not have any direct contact with the surgeon or the hospital. I could only hope that my emails or phone calls were being relayed to the surgeon. I emailed many times and also phoned many times. I would get the same response over and over. You must wait until the breast settles. I eventually gave up. Sadly my breasts became worse over time and I ended up having one smaller breast than the other and to me they looked like they were in a worse condition than before I had the surgery.
Q: How did you find Dr Briggs and were you worried about having to have further surgery?
I found Dr Patrick Briggs by Googling. I saw his website and watched the videos of him when he had appeared on the 7.30 Report. The story was about a woman who had lost a lot of weight and needed virtually a complete body lift. The results were so fantastic I wanted to meet him for myself.
I was worried about having further surgery but I thought if I could just get an opinion from him and go from there. My biggest concern was how much pain I had experienced and how long it had taken to recover with what seemed to be every problem I could experience. But my desire to see my breasts look better was stronger than my concerns.
Dr Briggs said I had Capsular Contraction and that I actually needed the lift done again as it had not been done properly the first time. My nipples were too close together and he believed that the implants I had been given were far too small. The surgeon in Thailand had put 200cc in both breasts even though I had requested larger. Dr Briggs replaced them with 415cc to match my breast size.
Q: How was your experience with Dr Briggs and your general experience of having surgery in Australia compared with Thailand?
Dr Briggs was absolutely wonderful. He did not judge me or make me feel terrible for going overseas for the original surgery. He was very compassionate and direct with me with regards to what I needed to have done. He gained my trust straight away. I felt very confident that he would be able to correct my problem. I chose to only have the implants replaced as I did not want to have any further surgery done on my nipples. I was concerned about the risks associated with blood supply to the nipples. As I had experienced the infection issues, I wanted to avoid being cut as much as possible.
Both Dr Briggs and Dr Smith the Anaesthetist were both absolutely wonderful. I was well informed on what was going to happen before surgery and on waking up from surgery. If anything, I felt even better than I expected. I was overwhelmed at how good I felt after.
I was able to get up out of bed an hour after surgery and had very little pain compared to what I had previously experienced. When I actually saw my breasts the next morning when Dr Briggs visited me, I wanted to cry because I was so happy with the result he had achieved.
Q: How was your recovery after the procedure with Dr Briggs and did you have follow up appointments with him?
My recovery has been exceptional. I was instructed to commence arm exercises to avoid the chest muscles from cramping. This was one of the best activities I could do. I found my pain was reduced by that activity as well.
I have had very little discomfort, I have had no complications whatsoever, the scar line is fantastic and is healing very well though I believe that is a result of being shown how to massage the scar line to assist with it healing and to reduce the sensitivity. It has been 4 weeks since the surgery this time and I feel better than I did 6 months after the original surgery in Thailand. I never stopped having pain after the first surgery. I never could be comfortable sleeping or wearing tight clothing. I however, have no pain now.
I have seen Dr Briggs twice since leaving the hospital and have another appointment in 5 weeks. Along with that, I have the assurance that if I need anything or have any concerns, Dr Briggs nurses are only a phone call or email away. I have felt 100% confident that I am in good hands.
Q: How did you feel after your second surgery with Dr Briggs in comparison to how you felt before your first surgery in Thailand?
As mentioned above, I cannot believe that I had gone through so much pain the first time and had such a terrible result. Whilst my breasts were not hacked or butchered in anyway, they were not a good result and the ongoing pain was terrible. But now, I have lovely full breasts that look great, they are the same size (maybe slightly bigger) as I was before but lovely and full. I feel like a million dollars. My confidence has returned. People keep asking me if I have had wrinkle relaxers or fillers recently because my face looks so good, I am sure it is because I have no pain and I am so very happy with the results.
Q: Are you looking at having any further plastic surgery procedures?
I would like to see whether Dr Briggs could fix up the bad tummy tuck procedure I had in 2002.
Read our article for more information on the dangers of travelling overseas for plastic surgery.
For more information on Dr Patrick Briggs, go here.