Robert Corse started in 1982 by having his nose reconstructed. Then, over a period of six years, he underwent liposuction—or fat removal— of the neck, jowls, abdomen and waist. “I thought it would improve my physical and mental outlook,” said Corse, 50, who works as a radio and television announcer in Philadelphia. At six feet, four inches and 210 lb., Corse says that he is now delighted with his body, which is four sizes smaller than it was. “When I get dressed in the morning, I feel great,” he declared. “I feel more confident. And I look good in a bathing suit. It does a lot for your head.” Corse said that his operations left few scars and caused only mild discomfort. “The end result was worth it,” added Corse.
“Now, I look at guys 10 years younger with pot bellies and I say, ‘That’s not for me.’ ”
Cosmetic: Sentiments like that have helped to make liposuction one of the most popular forms of cosmetic surgery in North America. Doctors estimate that during the past five years, 200,000 Canadians—at least 80 per cent of them women—have undergone the operation, which is done purely for cosmetic reasons. In the United States, about 250,000 people have the procedure each year. To some, liposuction may appear to be a quick and simple solution to weight and shape problems. But the operation is not always easy—and the results not always perfect. And there are risks. In July, a 44-year-old Toronto woman died of complications following the operation—one of three liposuction-related deaths in North America since 1982.
In performing liposuction, a surgeon makes a small incision, usually about one-quarter of an inch long, into a part of the patient’s body near the area from which the fat is to be removed. The doctor then inserts a tube called a cannula into the body. Using a high-powered suction machine, the doctor moves the cannula back and forth and sucks fat cells out of the body. The procedure itself, according to Toronto cosmetic surgeon Dr. William Middleton, does not demand the same delicacy as most other operations. “It is a very crude operation,” said
Middleton. “It is hard pushing a metal instrument through pockets of fat.”
The amount of unwanted fat that a doctor can safely remove from a patient is usually quite low—and rarely more than four pounds at one time. The more fat that is removed, experts say, the more complicated the procedure and the greater the risk. As fat is being pumped out, tissue fluids and blood are drawn out as well. If too much is removed, body cells are robbed of the fluids required to function
properly. As well, during liposuction there is a risk that blood or fat clots can travel through the body and lodge in the brain or lungs and cause a stroke.
Misinformation: Doctors emphasize that liposuction is neither a method of weight loss nor a procedure to be performed on very fat people. “There is more misinformation about liposuction than about any other area of cosmetic surgery,” said Toronto cosmetic surgeon Dr. Ely Ravinsky. “Many people feel it is a means of weight control, but liposuction should be done only to certain areas which do not respond when a person is on a dietary control.”
Experts agree that the ideal candidate for the procedure—which can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $4,000—is young, physically fit and has good skin elasticity. Still, older people do have the surgery, according to Woodbridge,
Ont., plastic surgeon Dr. Lloyd Carlsen, who performs about 150 liposuctions a year. Said Carlsen: “Some do not care about the rippling effect” caused by the loose skin left following fat removal. “They just want the fat to be reduced so they will look better in clothes.” Risks: Like any surgery, liposuction involves risks. Still, Dr. Julius Newman, founder of the American Society of Liposuction Surgery, insists that the risks are minimal when the operation is performed properly by trained
practitioners. In addition, the results may not be perfect. After liposuction, according to Carlsen, skin may wrinkle, become wavy or drape over the area where fat has been removed— especially in people over 40. The operation also can leave scars and—if fat is not removed evenly—bumpy or irregular skin texture.
But most doctors agree that the operation can help to improve people’s feelings about themselves. Said Middleton: “Everyone looks in the mirror and sees features that are not perfect, and some choose to improve them. If they look better, they can perform better.” For Corse and thousands of others, the risks are clearly worth taking in the quest for a trimmer body and an improved self-image.
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