Just a few years ago, plastic surgery seemed like the self-indulgent secret of the rich and famous; but suddenly, it’s moved into the mainstream. From ABC’s Extreme Makeover to FX network’s Nip/Tuck, makeover fever has seized the nation, with millions of viewers mesmerized by the drama of physical transformation. Plastic surgeons say they’re seeing bus drivers and great-grandmothers as well as socialites and executives, all willing to invest in their own possibilities and ready to share the news with their friends. And every time Oprah or CNN publicizes a new procedure that can trim waistlines, brighten smiles or narrow feet, more calls come into the doctors’ offices.
That’s especially true in Sarasota, which has more than its share of sophisticated, active residents who care about looking their best. They keep up with medical advances and know that many procedures are quicker, easier and less invasive than ever before.
We took a look at four local residents who have been seized by makeover fever, with results that went beyond improving their appearance to lifting the spirit.
Short and sweet: the S-lift
Cynthie Levin is so low-maintenance that she had permanent eyeliner applied so she wouldn’t have to waste time with makeup. But when the 50-year-old recovery room nurse began to notice her sagging jowls, she decided it was time to take action. Luckily, Levin didn’t have to go far to get her old face back; she works for plastic surgeon John Leikensohn.
Levin underwent an S-Lift, also known as a Limited Incision Face Lift, so named because incisions are limited to the front of the ear and a little bit into the hairline at the temples, explains Leikensohn. Patients can slide their hair behind their ears or wear it pulled up without fear of showing scars, he says. However, he notes, this procedure is suitable only for those who don’t have a tremendous amount of skin that needs to be removed from the lower and middle neck area.
Levin says the procedure took about two hours under general anesthesia, during which she also had a brow lift and an upper blepharoplasty, which removed excess skin from the eyelid. Afterwards, there was some bruising and tightness that took a week to disappear, and she had to keep her head elevated for a few days and not do any heavy chewing. But she was back to work in a week and friends couldn’t even tell she’d had work done, Levin says. Perplexed, they stop the pretty 50-year-old to tell her she looks less tired, or to ask whether she got a new haircut.
"It was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself," Levin says. "This was my face before I turned 50, before the aging process does what it does. I feel like now my face matches how I feel."
Turning back the hands of time: photo rejuvenation
Catherine Pape may be 73, but she still boasts the porcelain skin of a Southern belle who always stayed on the porch. Looks can be deceiving; Pape says she was a sun-worshipper for many years, and had the sunspots on her hands to prove it.
So she put her hands in the capable ones of her daughter, Neoderm’s Sandra Day, for results that took three 20-minute sessions to achieve. Day used a procedure called photo rejuvenation and a SpectraPulse system, which uses light pulses to remove pigmented and vascular lesions and even remove hair with no surface abrasion.
The equipment is a foot-operated machine with a hand-held phone-like device that, when passed over the hands, emits darts of light that remove the spots, decrease the mottled pigmentation and increase collagen to make the skin smoother. Day explains that people’s tolerance to light intensity varies-most just feel a slight tingle-and she adjusts the beams accordingly. It usually takes three sessions to erase the spots, but the higher the intensity, the fewer sessions it will take.
Immediately after a treatment, the skin appears slightly pink and the spots a little darker and raised. Occasionally, there’s also slight blistering that Day assures will fade. After the treatment, Day applies cream with aloe vera and cortisone and an all-natural sunscreen.
"If someone’s not going to use sunscreen, it’s a waste of time and money," says Day. "You have to have a committed client."
However, the treatment only works for light skins. Darker skin can attract too much of the light and cause light patches to form. To prevent getting sunspots in the first place, use ample sunscreen.
Going all the way: a full face lift
Dorothy Heller looks like an impeccably dressed PTA mom, but she’s really a delighted 61 years old. Her secret? Dr. Braun Graham, the plastic surgeon who worked on her brows, eyes, face and neck for six hours to turn back time.
"I just feel happy all the time now," says Heller.
Heller, a retired Northwest Airlines employee, was unhappy with the deep lines around her mouth, which made it difficult for her to even apply makeup without smearing. So Graham gave her a face lift, upper and lower eyelid rejuvenation and perioral laser resurfacing around the mouth, which uses laser energy to burn away the outer layer of skin. New skin resurfaces within a week, and more importantly, the procedure causes new collagen to form deeper inside, causing the wrinkles to disappear, says Graham. Heller was a good candidate because she was in good health, had good bone structure, and did not have excess fat around her face and neck.
When the bandages were removed, Heller says she was a little bruised and swollen, but not in pain. "I didn’t even take an aspirin," says Heller. "A hangnail is actually more painful."
Heller’s husband, Steve, iced her face every 20 minutes and kept her head elevated when she slept. When she went back to the doctor for a follow-up two weeks later and emerged from the makeup session, her husband was floored. "He said I wasn’t the same woman who walked out the door," she says.
He wasn’t the only one. After seeing Heller’s youthful yet natural appearance, five other women from her upscale River Wilderness neighborhood have made their doctors’ appointments.
Smiling at last-porcelain veneers
It’s taken Rick St. George, president of Global Financial Advisory Services, 40 years to crack a smile. Sure, he’s laughed before, but photographs show lips pressed firmly together because he was so uncomfortable about his crowded, twisted teeth. He didn’t like wearing braces and is so averse to pain that even a teeth cleaning is a traumatic procedure.
That’s why he can’t say enough about the porcelain veneers he got from Dr. Steven Krause during a four-session procedure. First, Krause’s staff made an impression of St. George’s teeth. Then, St. George worked on "designing" his smile, choosing the shape and tint of the teeth he wanted. The impression then went to a lab where the porcelain veneers were made, and a couple of weeks later, they were fused on to his regular teeth to give him the healthy, perfect set of choppers he boasts today.
Krause says anyone can be a candidate for the procedure; he’s worked on men and women, teens and 90-somethings. He’s done the procedure on three generations of one family and numerous couples. The procedure is painless, though a tiny percentage of patients feel some discomfort when wearing the temporary veneers until the permanent ones come in. Though "after" pictures show patients looking dramatically younger and healthier, Krause says benefits go beyond the cosmetic. Getting a good set of properly fused veneers can improve the strength of the teeth, bite and comfort, not to mention one’s confidence, says Krause.
"Now I’m learning how to smile," he says. "I wish I could pay for everyone to have this treatment."