The Skill to Rebuild
House Calls – Condell Health Network
“When I found the lump in my breast, I just knew it was cancerous. But the first two doctors I saw didn’t want to believe I could have cancer at such a young age,” said 32-yearold Kathi Wilson of Mundelein.
Then she saw general surgeon Laurence Gibson, MD, at Condell Medical Center. Listening closely to Kathi’s concerns, he performed a mammogram, an ultrasound, then a biopsy of the lump, which indicated Stage I cancer. Dr. Gibson gave Kathi three options: removal of the lump, removal of the affected breast or removal of both breasts.
Because breast cancer often spreads within the breast, even after a lumpectomy, and can spread to the other breast after a mastectomy, Kathi chose the most radical, yet safest approach – double mastectomy. Sensitive to the fact that losing both breasts at such a young age could be devastating, Dr. Gibson reassured Kathi that they could be reconstructed. He recommended plastic and reconstructive surgeon Aras Tijunelis, MD.
“That very same day I met Tijunelis and felt comfortable right away,” Kathi said. After her surgery she added, “Anyone can be a good doctor but it takes someone special, like Dr. Tijunelis, to be an exceptional human being. He helped me accept my body and restore my self-esteem.”
The method Kathi and Dr. Tijunelis chose for her reconstruction involved the
use of tissue expanders and saline breast implants. A tissue expander is a short-term breast implant with a tiny valve attached to it. Dr. Tijunelis implanted the expander under the skin and muscle of each of Kathi’s breasts at the time of her mastectomy. When Kathi awoke from her surgery, she already had the beginnings of her new breasts.
Once she completed 12 weeks of preventive chemotherapy, Kathi began seeing Dr. Tijunelis regularly so he could gradually fill the tissue expanders with saline. The procedure gently stretches the skin to make room for the permanent implants.
“Dr. Tijunelis has done a great job making my new breasts uniform, yet still natural-looking;” Kathi said.
Dr. Tijunelis is also skillful at matching the reconstructed breast in single mastectomy patients with their other natural breast.
Once Kathi’s implants were in place, and the breast tissue began to heal, the final step was reconstructing the nipples using a skin graft and tattooing technique.
Another popular method of breast reconstruction, which avoids using artificial implants, is called TRAM flap reconstruction. With this method, muscle tissue is taken from the abdomen and tunneled under the skin to the font of the chest wall to support the reconstructed breast The transported tissue forms a very natural feeling breast with enough bulk to form the breast mound without an implant. What’s more, as part of the surgery, the suitable patient gets a “tummy tuck” at the same time.
The Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act of 1998 mandates insurance coverage for breast reconstruction. Ask your insurer for details. Dr. Tijunelis performs both types of breast reconstruction. For physician referral, call our Physician Referral and Health Resources Coordinator at 990-5610.