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A Different Side of Grace: The ‘Heart behind the Art’ of Plastic Surgery

As a researcher who has been humbled by the opportunity to observe the "behind the scenes" stories of patients and physicians, alike, as they collaborate to create a place of healing, and with the added advantage of having been a patient who views personal experiences from a third party perspective, I have borne witness to a side of plastic surgery often missed in the eye of the general public. There is a bond of great depth in the attempts of humanity to better one another and, in my learnings, I have found physicians and patients benefit profoundly from their mutual relationships.


The depth of passion, hoarsely expressed, in the voice of Dr. Ted Lockwood, upon diagnosis of an inoperable brain tumor, questioned, "Who will love my patients? Who will want to take care of them?" At the time, he was one of few pioneers working with the massive weight loss population whose needs exceeded the offerings of many other practices. This was a cry of despair I have never forgotten, and it is with great endearment that I have followed the work of Drs. Katzen, Fisher, Rubin, Pascal, and, now, Agha and Aboolian, as well as many others, who continue to make advances in an area that was close to a good man's heartfelt words in the last chapter of his life. Such is the state of grace which serves to remind us how deeply physicians desire to make a difference in the lives of the vulnerable.


I've watched the reflection of fervent appreciation in the eyes of many surgeons as they absorbed each word of gratitude from patients fumbling through attempts to explain the impact the erasure of a perceived imperfection had on their quality of life. In a profound moment depicting the intense relationship between patient and phys

Art by Sophiana Lindenberg, pre-med student at CBU “As Masks Break, So Do Walls”

ician, I will forever see the tears in Dr. Pat Maxwell’s eyes as he witnessed the unadulterated joy of a patient ecstatic with her breast reconstruction after a long uphill climb.


I have listened with rapt attention to the findings of Dr. Diane Duncan, who has tirelessly fought to leverage the newest technology, along with her exemplary surgical skills, to raise the bar for women struggling with external changes which impact their self-esteem. Dr. Duncan has adhered to the rigor of multiple clinical trials to uncover the mechanisms behind soft tissue changes over time, gracefully offering herself as a control subject for the sake of good science. In her efforts to expound upon the benefits of RFAL, she is pioneering routes into correcting laxity of the extremities before such changes require surgical intervention. Perhaps, it was her love for people, combined with her extraordinary attention to detail, that so captured my admiration as she responded to an audience members inquiry as to why she didn't push past what she perceived to be safe limits in her efforts with, " I'm a 'mom'; I'm not going to take those chances with my patients". She captured in few words the force behind her work.


As Dr. Duncan goes on to so beautifully reflect, "The meaning in life for me is the opportunity to make a difference. I think the soul of a plastic surgeon who hears the calling as such is one that sees beyond the economic advantage, and is able to truly connect with the people they serve. I see my reward as the moment that the patient looks in the mirror, and sees the beautiful soul that lives within."

We sometimes advance each other's efforts in a moment’s notice, as I experienced when Dr. Jon Perlman extended his hand of generosity, offering his place at the table at a conference that opened doors for me to delve further into my message of hope for women longing for restoration after cancer, the opportunity lent because, despite his media fame, his real drive is to make a difference. The open arms that received me there offered me a furthered chance to do the same.


Lastly, in an effort to reflect the depth of life changing experiences on all sides, I offer below a letter written to Dr. Ken Hughes, who singled it out on his website to give us a chance to look more deeply into a process often hidden from an outside view.


Excerpts from Dr. Hughes patient begin with, " I really didn’t know how much I hurt inside about all that had happened to my body as I tried to overcome the feeling by rising above it."


It goes on to say, "When you started fixing the broken parts, it was like being released from bondage. My energy, spirit and excitement were so powerful that I saw how far down I had been. I’m a person who copes by adapting and suddenly the freedom is intoxicating as I see my vision beginning to come forth. Having the chance to regain my body makes me feel a responsible confidence towards the future; that I will one day be able to share myself without the shame I felt for all the hurtful changes after cancer. So in this rebirthing journey of my body, I also face my soul. Rebuilding my body is giving me a hope and a future.”

The letter delves deeply into the topic of restoration as it states, "It would be a travesty of the truth for me to bounce in excitement over my beautiful new body, and miss the real meaning of the journey of healing on all levels. It was your heart I heard when you agreed to take my case, and the wonder for me was that God knew my innermost being and would care so much to bless me with you. As people we are sojourners on an often rocky road of life and, to me, to share our stories with complete vulnerability is like pouring sustenance into each other’s soul. You never know how it can strengthen one, so know my words here are for your encouragement and you may use them one day when you’re tired."


And the letter concludes with a resounding grasp of the contrast between the shallow pitch of social perception and the powerful reality of the gift of this field. "I know doctors have been criticized in ugly ways for “playing God” and the horrible thing about that is it misses a great truth. As a physician, especially a surgeon, you are in a holy place. A place as close to the act of creation as any of us will get. Yet, you remain preciously human, and I can only imagine how God must love your heart and efforts as he watches from such a full vantage point. I can see your love for humanity as you seek to honor your role. We all need the daily reminder that we are not alone in our deeply personal journeys."


As we see captured above, the effort of the healed to lift the healer completes the circle of life, for, what we offer from ourselves as researchers, surgeons, patients and people never returns void, but, rather, builds as much in the giver as the recipient, at least, such has been my experience, and witness....and, so, we move forward, united in a different side of grace.


Tamarin Lindenberg is a healthcare executive and behavioral researcher with a specific focus in medical aesthetics. She leads an investment fund for early stage ventures in medical aesthetics.


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