MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Breast implants have long been the bread and butter for plastic surgeons in South Florida, but one local doctor is considering eliminating the procedure from his surgical rotation because of implant illness concerns.
Late last week, the Food and Drug Administration went public regarding those concerns.
CBS4 took an eye-opening closer look and we do have to warn you, some of the images you’re about to see are graphic.
Dr. Dev Vibhakar performs roughly 35 to 40 breast-related surgeries each month, but the majority of those procedures are not for breast implants.
More and more women are turning to him for ‘explant surgery’. They want to remove their surgically enhanced breasts.
“It was kind of a few patients at the beginning. But it’s definitely skyrocketed in the last few months,” Dr. Vibhakar said. “It’s tilted quite a bit. I’d say 90 percent explant and 10 percent implant.”
He says many of these women are experiencing ‘Breast Implant Illness’ or BII.
The primary symptoms include brain fog, fatigue, joint pain, rashes, and some chronic type of infections.
Many suffered in silence for years, confused about why they were feeling sick.
Slowly, support groups started popping up online with women sharing their very similar stories.
Back in March, many of them went to Washington, D.C. to tell those stories to the FDA.
“Ladies suffering from BII please stand up,” Holly Davis said. “Don’t ignore us, we are real!”
Nicole Daruda also shared her story.
“I along with a multitude of other women feel duped into thinking breast implants are safe,” Daruda explained.
Terri Jones Diaz, whom we first profiled in a story about Breast Implant Illness in November 2017, was among the speakers at the two day hearing.
“Within months of implant surgery, I started having symptoms such as migraines and unexplained weight gain, despite my healthy lifestyle,” she explained. “I was completely bedridden and waiting to die.”
Jones Diaz removed her implants in December 2016 and said she started feeling better within a few months.
The FDA announced last week that while it “doesn’t have definitive evidence demonstrating breast implants cause these symptoms, the current evidence supports that some women experience systemic symptoms that may resolve when their breast implants are removed. We believe women considering a breast implant should be aware of these risks.”
Research is still limited, so Dr. Vibhakar is starting to collect his own data from patients in hopes of cracking the code of this mysterious illness, which could have an autoimmune or genetic component.
Until he knows more, he’s seriously considering no longer performing breast implant surgery.
“Most of my explant patients ask me if I’m still implanting and why. And I’m very transparent. I think the FDA meeting was a huge stepping stone for me to reevaluate whether we are going to implant or not,” Dr. Vibhakar said.
Beatrice Zuluaga is a surgical consultant at Aqua Plastic Surgery.
A few months ago, she too felt she needed to take a stand.
“I decided to take the stand and not do any consultations with the surgeons on breast augmentations for the future,” Zuluaga said.
She says Dr. Vibhakar supports her.
Zuluaga herself has implants and while she isn’t sick, she plans to remove them anyway.
“I know too much. I’m too aware of the possibility of what can go wrong and I just don’t feel like it’s that important. My health is more important. I don’t want to see if something like that would happen,” Zuluaga said.
Dr. Vibhakar says he’ll decide sometime this month whether he will stop doing implants, but it’s clear he won’t stop doing explants anytime soon.
“We don’t know. That’s kind of the big question. If we knew who was affected we could counsel our patients on whether to get implants or not. Unfortunately, now the only definitive test is to take them out and see if they get better,” said Dr. Vibhakar, when asked what the science tells him about BII.
It’s important to note, Breast Implant Illness is not the same as Breast Implant-Associated Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma, which has been linked to textured implants.
Research on that disease and its causes is also ongoing. The FDA stopped short of banning textured implants but promised to increase efforts to collect and disseminate information about risks involving the device.