A Canberra mother-of-three says she wants to warn women about the dangers of getting breast implants after her botched surgery at the hands of a GP who she thought was a qualified plastic surgeon.
In Australia, it is legal for GPs to perform surgery to insert breast implants.
It is also legal for GPs to identify themselves as “cosmetic surgeons” despite the phrase causing widespread confusion.
GPs have minimal or no surgical training, while plastic surgeons can have up to 12 years more training.
Recognising this, an inquiry by the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) last November recommended the phrase “cosmetic surgeon” be banned.
However, this is yet to happen.
When Melissa Harrison, 28, made the decision to get breast implants she knew none of this.
She would also unwittingly pick a doctor who was later suspended by the NSW Medical Council over complaints made by dozens of women to Nine’s A Current Affair.
Dr Leslie Blackstock was operating out of the Enhance Clinic in Penrith in Sydney’s west. He was suspended after Nine’s story went to air in October 2017.
Dr Blackstock is still suspended and the investigation is ongoing. Dr Blackstock denies claims he left the women disfigured and traumatised by their breast implant procedures.
‘IT DIDN’T LOOK LIKE AN OPERATING THEATRE’
Ms Harrison said she made the decision to get breast implants back in October 2016 because she wanted to improve her self-confidence after having twins.
“A lot of women have different reasons for doing it, mine was that I had kids and my body didn’t look the same. I thought well, I can fix this,” she told nine.com.au.
Misled by the term “cosmetic surgeon”, Ms Harrison said she thought she was choosing a qualified surgeon.
“I thought I did enough research and I trusted in him. And that’s where it all went wrong,” she said.
Having booked the surgery, Ms Harrison said she immediately felt misgivings when she was led into the back room where the operation would be performed.
“Once I got in there, I didn’t have a good feeling. It didn’t look like a proper operating theatre like where you would go in for surgery,” she said.
“It looked like I was going to wake up in a bath full of ice. That is how it felt. I said to my partner, ‘I am going to lose a kidney’.”
However, Ms Harrison said she felt it was too late to back out and the nurses reassured her that everything would be fine.
The surgery was performed while Ms Harrison was awake – under sedation and local anaesthetic.
She was told to put in some earphones and listen to some music on her mobile phone while the operation got underway.
“I can remember some of the cutting and pulling and I remember I took the headphones out to say something and I could hear it all,” Ms Harrison recalled.
“I could feel him squeezing the implant in there and I could feel the pressure on me. It felt like an elephant was sitting on me.
“I remember saying, ouch, all I managed to say was ouch. He (Dr Blackstock) said, ‘Give her more medication’.”
At one point during the operation, Ms Harrison said Dr Blackstock sat her up to ask her to assess the size of the implants.
“He sat me up and was like, ‘What do you think?’
“I was really groggy and I just remember staring and seeing all of this blood dripping out of these massive holes. I was so out of it.
“He had said tell me if I wanted to go down a size.
“I looked at them and said, ‘They are big.’ And he laid me back down and said they are fine and you will end up wanting to come back (if he made them smaller).”
Ms Harrison said her medication was bumped up once more during the operation and she was no longer awake for the rest of the procedure.
BACK ROOM SURGERIES ON THE RISE
Associate Professor Gazi Hussain is the Vice President of the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons.
Assoc Prof Hussain told nine.com.au it was common for “GP surgeons” to perform breast implant surgery under local anaesthetic in their own clinics, which had the potential to lead to dangerous complications.
“A lot of these GP surgeons can’t get access to hospitals because most day surgeries or private hospitals won’t accredit these people to operate there,” Assoc Prof Hussain said.
“So what they are then forced to do is perform these procedures in their offices or in back rooms.
“So obviously they are not able to administer proper anaesthesia, they then have to do it under local anaesthetic.
“What we have seen is a number of instances over the last few years where patients have required more and more local anaesthetic and have reached the point where they are given toxic doses of local anaesthetic and then had cardiac arrests.”
“So we have a number of women who were then transferred out of these back room clinics and had to go to intensive care in ambulances.”
In August 2017, Sydney woman Jean Huang died after going into cardiac arrest during a breast enhancement procedure at the Medi Beauty Clinic she co-owned in Chippendale.
It was her death that sparked last year’s HCCC inquiry into the cosmetic surgery industry.
Assoc. Prof Hussain said the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons was calling on the government to ban to the term “cosmetic surgeon” as a matter of urgency.
“I think every day that goes by patients are being put at risk and patients are exposing themselves to dangers so we would like to see something happen here as soon as possible,” he said.
‘THE SCARS WERE HIDEOUS’
Ms Harrison said she found out after the surgery that Dr Blackstock had inserted two different size implants.
After weeks of recovering from the operation, Ms Harrison said she realised her implants were the wrong size.
“He said he put the different sizes in because my chest cavity was uneven but they were the wrong size for my body. One of them was so big on one side compared to the other. And the scars were hideous,” she said.
Even now, more than two years later, Ms Harrison said she was suffering from almost constant chest pain.
“I get the worst pain in my chest, I get shooting pains, my chest feels like it’s burning. One breast is now much bigger than the other and I have lumps in my right breast that are painful,” she said.
“I have got weakness in my arms. I used to be quite active but now I can’t lift my upper body up. I’ve got no strength and a lot of tendon pain.”
Nine.com.au has contacted Dr Blackstock for comment, who at the time of publication was yet to respond.
When confronted by A Current Affair back in 2017, Dr Blackstock said he had nothing to hide and invited the cameras into his clinic.
Dr Blackstock said that “96.5 per cent” of his female clients were satisfied with the clinic’s procedures.
“This was a legitimate facility that was safe, doing very well and helping a lot of people,” he said.
Dr Blackstock said concerns about the performing breast implant surgery while his patients were unwarranted and being awake was a positive because it meant they could participate in the “very difficult” process of breast sizing.
After sending numerous emails, Ms Harrison said she managed to speak to Dr Blackstock on the phone.
She said the GP offered to remove the implants, but by this time Ms Harrison had heard of the growing complaints made by other women in regards to Dr Blackstock and did not want to return to his clinic.
“I was really shocked when I found out about it all. And it brought tears to my eyes to think that all of these other women who have suffered,” she said.
‘I JUST WANT THEM OUT’
As well as the chest pain, Ms Harrison said her health began to decline in other alarming ways after her breast implant surgery.
Suffering from hair loss, chronic fatigue, muscle and joint pain, Ms Harrison went to see numerous specialists before a doctor diagnosed her with Breast Implant Related Illness.
The recently emerging condition is recognised by the Australian Department of Health, although doctors say more research still needs to be done.
Ms Harrison has also been diagnosed with a debilitating autoimmune condition, which has also been associated with Breast Implant Related Illness.
To make matters worse, the type of textured breast implant Ms Harrison was fitted with has also been linked to an increased risk of a rare form of breast cancer, anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL).
In January, the Therapeutic Goods Administration revised the number of known Australia cases of ALCL upwards from 29 to 76.
Doctors recently found a lesion on one of Ms Harrison’s breasts.
The medics have told her they believe the lesion is benign and advised her to go back in for a check-up in three months’ time.
Ms Harrison said she had been desperate to remove her breast implants ever since her surgery but could not do so in the public system and simply did not have the $10-15,000 pay for it.
“I just want them out. Mentally and physically I’m just at my wits end. My health is so bad and I have children that depend on me. The only reason that I get up out of bed is for my kids,” she said.
An online fundraiser has been set up by Ms Harrison’s family to try and help her raise the funds needed to have the implants removed.
Contact reporter Emily McPherson at email@example.com.
© Nine Digital Pty Ltd 2019