• Born this way?

    by Christy Sillman

    I made a promise to myself when I was laying in the Pediatric ICU as a 17 year old recovering from open heart surgery: I would never endure an optional surgery such as plastic surgery. I’ve been through enough. It didn’t make any sense to ever put myself through surgery if I didn’t have to.

    I relinquished that promise months before my wedding day when I felt frustrated by one of the old scars on my back. This scar was from one of my heart procedures where they go in through the back to put a bypass, or shunt, in my heart.

    It runs along my shoulder blade and because it was done when I was 10 months old, it stretched, pitted and twisted as I grew. Also, because of the way the muscle was cut, I have a giant bulge of muscle above the scar and very little muscle below it. This one-sided surgery-induced back “fat” bulge was not going to work with the design of my wedding dress. So, I sought the advice of a plastic surgeon.

    We devised a plan where they would liposuction any fat off of the top of the muscle bulge to hopefully reduce its bulk, and re-do the scar running up my back to get rid of the pits and twists in it. Unfortunately, that heart of mine makes doctors nervous, so we decided to do this procedure without anesthesia and very little sedation. A local anesthetic would be used instead.

    The problem with using local anesthetic with a surgical procedure like liposuction is that you can only numb so much and you don’t really know whether an area is numb or not until the liposuction wand is being jammed under your skin and along your back. I levitated off the table from a combination of pain and the shear force from the aggressiveness of the procedure. It was brutal and I highly recommend being asleep for something as medieval as liposuction.

    After a month’s worth of healing my back looked SLIGHTLY better. The scar is definitely improved, but the muscle bulge still lives on. Was it worth it? Not really.

    Now I’m contemplating how to approach another scar of mine.

    This old scar of mine runs directly under my right breast. Just like the scar on my back, everything below my scar is completely atrophied (or flat). Unfortunately, when they did this incision, they had no idea what cup size I would one day become, and so they cheated that poor breast out of an entire cup size and a half.

    Now, I’m grateful that they installed built-in underwire, but in comparison to her sister, she’s much perkier and smaller. My chest looks like one of those half-and-half outfits, where on one side you have the voluminous lady who is rightfully in her 30s and the other half displays an 18 year old breast who hasn’t quite finished puberty and still stands tall. Breastfeeding only exacerbated the problem. Now my shirts and bras don’t fit right, and my husband graciously has to help me get ready by telling me which shirts make it less obvious — a strange twist on the “does this make me look fat?” trap men sometimes endure.

    I’ve had enough of feeling awkward in my clothes, but I’m not quite ready to get surgery. I’m contemplating buying a fake boob — otherwise known as a chicken cutlet. But I have to ask myself —what’s worse? Having your breasts that are obviously uneven or accidently dropping your boob on the floor? This purchase may cause more strife than help.

    Just be warned from now on — if you pick a fight with me you may end up with a fake boob slapped across your face.

    Maybe one day I’ll end up sitting in the plastic surgery waiting room once again, but I can’t help to think of that 17 year old girl who begged herself to remember the promise. I think of Lady Gaga’s song, “Born this way,” and realize that I wasn’t born this way. These things were done to me and I’m just trying to get back to what I was intended to look like. But I was born with congenital heart disease, and so I guess I was born to endure scars that disfigure. Is plastic surgery worth the risk to my health? Will it ultimately make me feel happier and more confident?

    For now, I’ll just be happy I have a husband who loves me just the way I am, but will support me if I decide to endure surgical reconstruction for the things that bother me. I’m going to buy that prosthetic boob, not only for the chance to feel better about the way I look without surgery, but for the sheer comic relief it may give my husband and I. Seriously ladies, how cool would it be to just hand your husband your boob, some lotion and a box of tissues when you’re not in the mood?



    • I have had breast reduction for difference in size and I waited until my 50’s and had a wound for 3 months. I don’t regret the decision but I definitely regret waiting so long to do it. The younger body is much more resilient to this type of change. Do what you feel is best for you but do it when you are younger not older.


      • A friend

      • July 24, 2011 at 1:28 pm
      • Reply

      Hi Christy!! I couldnt help but have a somewhat personal connection to your column today 🙂 I just had my consult appointment with a plastic surgeon this past Friday. I have been “dreaming of” getting plastic surgery since I realized at 18 that there was not even a glimer of hope that I would someday grow a chest. I have always just done my best to appreciate what I do have but I have always felt in someway inadequate. I promised myself I would wait until after I had kids to see what happened to my stature post-babies and breastfeeding. Now, at almost 30 I am s/p 2 babies and 2 rounds of breastfeeding. I have a Husband who loves me to death and Ive known him since I was a teenager. So I know I dont need to “get boobs for him”. I know in my heart I really dont NEED them at all. But its something I have to think about every day when I put on a sports bra instead of a real bra. I try to tell myself that I “was born this way” and that I should just accentuate the other “features” I have. But as I get older its getting harder! SO….I finally decided that because I am still young and because I have so much life left to live…I deserve to be comfortable in my own skin! Next week I will go “under the knife” and come out a new woman. I decided againt general anesthesia because I dont want the ultimate rish of intubation and all that jazz. But I do fear the pain during surgery as you experienced with the lipo.

      I say….go for it. You deserve it!!! Yes its something that hardly anybody else notices…but who cares! You deserve to be the best you can be. You work hard. At home and in your profession. You deserve the opportunity to reward yourself. If its cosmetically…so what!!

      If youd like I can give you the name of my Dr. Hes in the Sac area and hes very nice and honest. He did a lot of breast reconstructive stuff here at UCD and so he may be able to help you 🙂 At least go and talk to a Dr and see if getting the consult makes you lean one way or the other more.

      You didnt choose your life as a heart defect survivor! But you have chosen to fight and to live the best life you can! Youve chosen to give life to a baby….and youve chosen to help others fight for their lives in your profession. Why not choose to give youself more confidence and why not choose to love yourself just a little bit more 🙂



    • Christy,
      In my opinion, you needn’t worry about scars and such, you are absolutely beautiful just as you are.
      Donald



    • LOVE the last line!!!! 🙂


      • Joanie

      • July 26, 2011 at 11:38 am
      • Reply

      Wow, like you, I had my surgeries at 10 months and 17 years old, and also a nurse. I have a dimple at the bottom of my sternal scar, below that a star shaped chest tube scar. I do look like I have 3 belly buttons. I am also lucky enough to have a wonderful husband that loves me, my scars and my imperfect heart. He learned not to touch my “wires”. One time he touched someone on their sternum, jumped back and said “i’m sorry.” They thought he was a little crazy. I am so happy to have found your column, thanks to ACHA. Keep up the great writing.



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