Meg Farris / Medical Reporter
It is considered a natural way to enhance your face and body. And now this procedure is growing in popularity.
Technology is changing not only cosmetic procedures, but medical treatments that could one day, also be the answer to curing some medical and genetic illnesses.
Tina LeBoeuf, 46, of Houma, had two life changing experiences. The first was her choice. After three children, she had a tummy tuck and breast implants. But after she healed something happened she had no control over.
"It was really supposed to be a renewal of life and an exciting time in my life. But two months after I felt a lump after the swelling went down. And after they did a biopsy, they told me I had breast cancer," remembers LeBoeuf.
The last year was tough on her with 16 rounds of chemo, 25 of radiation to fight her Stage 3 diagnosis.
Surgery completely removed the internal breast tissue. An expander was inserted to keep the breast skin from collapsing and scaring down.
"It was very hard doing work and still being a mom and going through cancer. But I was determined to not let the cancer win," LeBoeuf declared.
Now she is doing something new in medical technology that could be used for more natural, anti-aging procedures, such as a liquid face lift, and even in the future to cure serious illness.
"The mood in the country now is people want to do what's natural for them and nothing can be more natural than doing an improvement to yourself, be it reconstructive or any type of a cosmetic deformity than using your own fat," said Ray Zale, Senior Vice President of Development for BioLife Cell Bank.
What's new is that your fat, removed through liposuction, can now be stored for later cosmetic or medical use. BioLife Cell Bank in Dallas is growing daily with hundreds of patients in the U.S. and Canada storing their fat. That tissue can be sent back to patients for cosmetic procedures all over the body. Some examples are: to build up a sagging face with or without a face lift, sagging earlobes, breasts with or without implants to make them fuller, softer with a more natural cleavage. It can also be used for a buttocks lift. In men, it can be used for the look of biceps, chest and calf muscles. Also in the hands, the lips and even to fix old scars and depressions from liposuction.
Plastic surgeons recently came to New Orleans to learn the latest in fat grafting at a medical conference.
"Patients are coming in. They are asking for it. There's a lot of buzz about it both in the medical literature as well as in the lay press and I think it's something that in the next five years is really going to grow immensely," said Dr. Larry Weider, a plastic surgeon in Dallas, Texas who came to New Orleans for the conference.
And that is how Metairie plastic surgeon Dr. Kamran Khoobehi is helping LeBoeuf. In the O.R., he is taking fat from her lower body. Some will be mailed off to BioLife Cell Bank. The rest will be used to rebuild the inside of the breast that had cancer. It will put around her new breast implant so that it's more natural but also to act as a cushion between the breast implant and skin that is very delicate after being damaged by radiation treatments.
"Using the fat grafting gives another option for the patients that don't want to through the breast reconstruction," Said Dr. Khoobehi, The Chief of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at LSU Health Sciences Center.
But there's another benefit. As research advances, her own stored fat could one day be used to heal and even cure medical and genetic conditions.
"Your adult stem cells are the highest concentration in your fat than in any other part of the body by a magnitude of 500 times when you compare it to blood or bone marrow," explained Zale.
For LeBoeuf, her fat with its stem cells put around her new implant, could keep that thin radiated breast skin from tearing down.
"The studies from Italy coming that using the fat grafting to the radiated tissue, you see regeneration of the tissue," noted Dr. Khoobehi.
With her fat in a bank, any future procedures would not require surgery in the O.R., just office injections. And Dr. Khoobehi has developed low pressure techniques to collect the fat by hand and through the water jet machine that keep the fat cells intact and living for a long time when grafted back into the body.
Some doctors think the cost of banking is worth it.
"When you look at the cost of using fillers and other products that are temporary, that have to be reinjected every six months or nine months verses using your own fat and having it available to you, and having it last much longer than some of these fillers that are available, I think it makes sense financially," said Dr. Weider.
Now LeBoeuf is looking towards her 25th anniversary.
"We're going to go to Hawaii and renew our wedding vows," her husband Dwayne said with a smile.
"I am definitely holding him up to that trip to Hawaii for my anniversary," she said from her pre-op bed.
The cost for the first year of processing, preserving and storing the fat is around $1,700. Every year after that is around $200. The cost of processing the stem cells is extra.