WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — After Amy Novitzke underwent breast-implant surgery in 2002, she says, “I was thrilled with the results.”
The athletic 48-year-old, then-newly divorced Wisconsite, who’s currently snowbirding at a friend’s house in West Palm Beach, had the surgery to rectify a common condition: asymmetrical breasts.
“As the surgeon said, ‘Your sisters aren’t twins’ — one was a B cup, the other a C.”
Post-surgery, Novitzke was a 32DD.
For almost a decade, she looked and felt great. But that began to change in 2011.
“I began suffering a wide array of conditions,” she recalls: allergies, asthma, arthritis, neuropathy, autoimmune disorders, thyroiditis, hormonal imbalances, vision and digestive disorders.
“It was like playing whack-a-mole,” says Novitzke. “Every time I got treatment for one condition, another two or three would pop up.”
Eventually, her deteriorating health — which included an asthma attack so severe she broke two ribs — necessitated she take medical leave from her job as an executive assistant to a Fortune 500 company’s in-house legal counsel.
After doing copious research and seeing more doctors than she can name, Novitzke concluded that her saline breast implants — which, like all implants, have a silicone coating — were the likely source of her maladies.
Novitzke is not alone.
In May, WPTV in West Palm Beach profiled five women whose stories were remarkably similar to Novitzke’s.
And, just as Novitzke did in January — and celebrities such as Pamela Anderson, Sharon Osbourne and Victoria Beckham have done in recent years amid growing health concerns — the WPTV subjects all opted to have their implants removed.
“More and more in my practice, I’m seeing women who are having concerns about their health and the ongoing controversies related to breast implants,” says Novitzke’s surgeon, Dr. Fredric Barr of Palm Beach Plastic & Cosmetic Surgery.
Barr stresses that he’s neither pro- nor anti-implants.
“We just want people to have all the facts so that they can make the best decisions for themselves.”
Studies done by manufacturers reveal that anywhere from 10 to 25 percent of silicone and saline implants will rupture or significantly degrade after a decade. Novitzke noted that nearly all of her silicone coating had sheared away.
Around 1 in 5 women will experience “capsular contracture” — which is a painful stiffening of scar tissue that can lead to misshapen breasts.
In 2011, the FDA issued an advisory that a small subset of women may develop an extremely rare form of cancer called anaplastic large cell lymphoma associated with their breast implants (BIA-ALCL). According to the FDA’s website, “As of Feb. 1, 2017, the FDA has received a total of 359 medical device reports of BIA-ALCL, including nine deaths.”
The organization Breast Surgeons of Australia & New Zealand in 2016 calculated the statistical risk at 1 in 5,000 breast-implant patients.
The most common symptom of BIA-ALCL is a persistent swelling of the breast but can include other symptoms, such as a lump in the breast or armpit, and symptoms typically occur eight to 10 years after implantation.
“Any breast-implant patient who is experiencing persistent swelling needs to undergo an oncology exam right away,” urges Barr.
Of course, far more common than BIA-ALCL fears are the growing concerns about the wisdom of having a foreign substance — even one that Barr says is thought to be as relatively harmless as silicone — in one’s body long-term.
As Dr. Janette Alexander, a plastic surgery medical officer in the FDA’s division of surgical devices, told Fox News in 2015, “Implants are not lifetime devices — the longer a woman has them, the more likely it is that she will need additional surgery, which could include replacement or removal.”
That’s to say nothing of the inevitable effects gravity will have.
“By the time I did my ‘explant’ surgery, I was wearing a 34G bra,” says Novitzke, who weighs the same as she did when she received her implants.
In the past month, Novitzke has already noticed improvements.
“My thyroid is functioning properly for the first time in years. My hormones are coming back into balance. My posture is better; my neck and spine don’t hurt all the time; my complexion is clearer, and I have more energy.”
An update last month on one of the women profiled on WPTV noted that she too had experienced dramatic improvement. She told the station, “Everything has normalized. … My hormone levels have stabilized. … I have my life back.”
Novitzke, just like Barr, stresses that she’s neither in favor of nor against implants. She just knows what works for her.