I had Breast Implant Illness and yes, it’s real
Can breast implants make you sick? If you ask the medical community, the answer is no - there is not enough evidence to support that breast implants pose a risk to women’s health. While doctors and surgeons insist that breast implants are safe, there’s a burgeoning community of thousands of women around the world, coming forward to claim otherwise. Many of these women suffer for years in silence without answers or support. Ranging from discomfort and irritability to on-going vomiting, diarrhea, neurological dysfunction and even loss of sight, these women suffer from physical, emotional and psychological symptoms that they call ‘breast implant illness.’
Alivia was one of those women and this is her story.
Last December, I made the decision to get breast implants. I had lost a bit of weight because I got really into fitness and as a result, my breasts shrunk a lot. I tossed up the idea for quite a while, but eventually I decided I wanted my breasts back to the size they once were, so I got the surgery.
I was never told by any medical professional that there could be a chance I would get really sick. But that’s what happened...
“The first few months after my surgery were fine”
I was happy with my breasts and my symptoms were mostly what I expected - a little soreness and a little swelling but nothing major.
It wasn’t until March that I started to notice a change. I was starting to get really, really tired throughout the day and was napping all the time. I also noticed my original scars just weren’t healing; they were still so red and sore months later.
When I spoke to my surgeon about it, he said it was nothing to worry about.
“At around six months, I started to lose my vision”
It was like watching the world through a handheld camera. My vision was shaky and blurry every time I moved. My speech started to decline too. I was slurring my words.
I also hadn’t had a proper period since getting implants.
At this point I thought maybe my hormones were off, so I got some tests done. When the results came back, I was told I had severely low progesterone, but there were no more answers.
“My appearance was changing. You could tell I was sick.”
My skin was grey and sunken and I had developed bad acne. My face shape also completely changed, so much so that people were asking me if I’d had cheek filler. I was puffy, everywhere. I found myself covering up more than before my implants because I was so embarrassed.
I started to struggle even leaving the house. Eventually, I had to stop working and I wasn’t able to drive.
Near the end, when I was super sick, the right side of my face started drooping from my top lip to my eye. My eye could barely open.
I looked like a different person.
“I continued to have tests and had an ultrasound of my implants”
At the ultrasound, my GP told me there was no rupture. The technician said they were intact and my implants weren’t to blame for my declining health.
With no medical answers and months of suffering, I decided to see a naturopath.
She said she had seen lots of women with the exact same issues as me. She said it was likely my body was in autoimmune response and that antibodies were attacking my health cells. She said, “I hate to say this to you, but have you ever considered breast implant illness?”
That was September 2019.
I looked into the timeline of my health issues and it matched up with my implant surgery.
“My surgeon still insisted it was not my implants making me sick”
Despite the evidence and all of my symptoms, my surgeon didn’t agree with my self-diagnosis.
I was going crazy.
My health was declining everyday and my family was getting really worried. My mum began looking into surgeons who would perform an explant, taking the full capsule out.
[bh note: According to breastimplantillness.com, all cases of explant should involve a full capsule removal. Removing the implant without the capsule can “harbor microorganisms and biofilm, which can continue to grow and spread, causing pain and inflammation, radiology interference, and still stimulate autoimmune responses and ultimately further symptoms.”]
Unfortunately, there were not many surgeons in Sydney prepared to do a full capsule explant.
“I travelled to Ohio for my explant surgery”
After weeks of research, I found the leading surgeon in explants, Dr. Lu Jean Feng, who was based in Ohio. When I met Dr. Feng, she was the first doctor to say “I believe you.” She truly saved my life.
She has explanted on women from over 40 countries. It was far to go, but I didn’t want to get this surgery ever again. I wanted to get it done once and done properly the first time.
When I contacted the surgeon and explained my timeline, symptoms and situation, the team were very concerned. Thankfully, they were able to fit me in within one month.
“It became evident that breast implant illness is very real”
Immediately after explant surgery, my inflammation starting calming straight away. My right eye was returned to normal. My face was no longer drooping. My skin colour went from a greyish-white to a warm colour again. I no longer had to nap every day.
And possibly most telling of all, my period came for the first time in six months. The day after my surgery.
“So many people believed I was sick... except medical professionals”
Looking back, everyone I spoke to who also had implants (whether they were experiencing breast implant illness or not) believed I was sick. The only push back I got was from medical professionals like doctors, surgeons, and radiologists. They all said it wasn’t my implants making me sick and that there was no evidence to prove otherwise.
I hope to continue to raise awareness around breast implant illness and help to make it easier for women to get full capsule explant surgery in Australia.
In my personal opinion, I think everyone with implants will eventually be impacted at some stage in their life. And there comes a point where anecdotal evidence should be considered ‘real’ evidence.