COVER

The joy of being fat free

Liposuction vacuums out bags and bulges 'from head to toe'

SHARON DOYLE DRIEDGER July 8 1996
COVER

The joy of being fat free

Liposuction vacuums out bags and bulges 'from head to toe'

SHARON DOYLE DRIEDGER July 8 1996

The joy of being fat free

Liposuction vacuums out bags and bulges 'from head to toe'

Yvette Oberg hated her “enormous” hips and the “flabby fat” around her tummy. But no matter how much she jogged, skied and dieted, she could not shed the bulges. “I worked out for an hour and a half a day,” recalls the 42-year-old Oberg, who owns a shoe store in Kelowna, B.C. “I could do sit-ups until the cows come home—but I could not get the fat off.” Last October, a Vancouver plastic surgeon removed the excess weight from her stomach with liposuction—a procedure that vacuums fat cells out of the body. “I now have an incredibly flat stomach,” says Oberg. “I was so thrilled that I went back and had my hips and my bum done last February.”

The surgeon removed more than three and a half litres of fat from Oberg’s body. In a few hours, she went from a size 32 to size 28 jeans. “When I go to the gym now, I wear these cute little outfits and I don’t feel at all embarrassed working out with 20-year-olds,” says Oberg. “I can get into a bikini—isn’t that amazing?”

Pioneered in Europe in the 1960s, liposuction came to North America in 1982. At first, plastic surgeons used the procedure exclusively on thighs, buttocks and torso. Now, refined techniques allow for the removal of tiny fat deposits, even in the face. “You can practically go from head to toe,” says Dr. Gérald Rheault of Montreal, who uses liposuction to eliminate small pads of fat from the cheeks and neck, reduce large “saddlebags” or trim an ankle. Liposuction is expensive—from $1,000 to $5,000, depending on the number of sites treated. Still, it has become North America’s most popular cosmetic operation. In the United States, surgeons earned $465 million in 1994 from liposuction. Rheault notes that 90 per cent of his clients are women, many aged 30 to 50. “But there are some men,” he adds, “especially for the spare tire.”

One appeal of liposuction is that it not only eliminates fat—it appears to keep it off. “In liposuction, you remove the cells in which fat can be deposited,” says Rheault. It is possible to gain weight afterward, but doctors believe it does not accumulate in the treated area. Says Rheault: “In general, fat removed in this fashion

is removed permanently.” The procedure, which usually lasts from one to two hours, is straightforward if crude. The surgeon makes a small incision in the skin, then inserts a fine blunttipped metal tube into the layers of fat. He moves the tube back and forth, loosening fat cells that are then sucked up through the tube into a container. “It requires a fair amount of strength,” says Rheault, as well as skill and good judgment. The surgeon must contour the remaining fat, leaving enough to provide a smooth, even surface. Many doctors perform so-called tumescent liposuction, injecting fluid into the treated area—a less painful technique that decreases blood loss. Some are experimenting with ultrasound to break up fat cells before they are suctioned out. And a few surgeons save the fat and freeze it for use as a filler for wrinkles.

While liposuction may be a g boon to some, it cannot cure I obesity. “It is not a way of los| ing weight,” says Rheault, § explaining that only small amounts of fat can safely be removed at one time. “Liposuction is useful for specific fatty deposits in a patient with normal weight,” he emphasizes. The procedure will not remove stretch marks or cellulite—skin with a lumpy appearance. Nor will it tighten saggy, wrinkled flesh. In fact, liposuction works best on taut, toned skin, with enough resiliency to shrink into place after fat is removed.

Like any surgery, liposuction carries some risk. “Some people think it is like having their hair done,” says Dr. Richard Warren, a Vancouver plastic surgeon. Complications—although rare—include temporary numbness of skin, excessive bleeding and infection. Skin texture may be damaged, resulting in scarring or bagginess. To date, there has been one death attributed to liposuction in Canada. In 1991, a 44-year-old Toronto real estate broker died after liposuction when a massive blood clot blocked an artery.

Gloria, a 32-year-old Edmonton property manager, understood the risks when she underwent liposuction to remove “pronounced saddlebags” a year ago. “It’s not a science,” says Gloria, who needed a second operation to smooth out one thigh. “It’s the doctor’s ability—he uses his eye to judge the results.” Her convalescence—normal, considering the large area that was treated—was painful. “I had black bruising,” says Gloria. “I sat on pillows for quite a few weeks.” And, like many patients, she had to wear a girdle-like garment for more than a month, to help her skin compress and to minimize swelling. “I hated it,” recalls Gloria. “It’s extremely binding, but necessary if you want good results.” Gloria did not achieve perfection. “I have very tiny scars,” she says. “And it doesn’t get rid of cellulite.” Still, she insists that “it was well worth it.” The payoff, says Gloria, is her gratifyingly smooth silhouette.

SHARON DOYLE DRIEDGER