Twenty-six year-old Debra Cooperman is half the woman she used to be... in a positive sense. After struggling with every diet under the sun and consulting several nutritionists for help, she finally opted for gastric bypass surgery and lost 140 pounds. Now, at 5-feet, 10-inches tall and 178 pounds, Debra feels she looks good and is healthier and more energetic.
A vivacious young woman, Debra always had many good friends. But her weight made her uncomfortable among people she didn't know, so she avoided parties and social scenes. "When I was heavy, there was always a fear people would call me names," she said. Not any more.
Still, after losing the weight, Debra felt her transformation was incomplete. More than a year after the surgery, she found she had a lot of excess skin that didn't look too good and made it hard to buy clothing. "I had come so far, but still felt I had farther to go, " she recalls. So she went to see Dr. Lyle Leipziger, Chief of Plastic Surgery at North Shore University Hospital and Long Island Jewish Medical Center. In fact, Dr. Leipziger has seen an increase in consultations among people considering a tummy tuck, breast lift or more extensive "body lift" surgery to remove excess hanging skin after a big weight loss.
"Many people are left with a kind of apron of skin around their midsection, and this excess skin tends to cause problems," Dr. Leipziger said. "In addition to being bothersome or embarrassing because of the way it looks, people may have trouble buying clothing, engaging in certain activities, even walking." The loose skin can be prone to infection, as well. Depending on where the excess skin appears, it can be eliminated. "Sometimes it is removed from the entire midsection, possibly around the back as well, so that the buttocks and thighs are also lifted," Dr. Leipziger says. In women, a breast lift may also be performed.
In June, Debra had what Dr. Leipziger calls a partial body lift -- a tummy tuck to get rid of the excess skin around her abdomen, as well as a breast lift and breast reduction. After the surgery, she was ten pounds lighter.
Just as bariatric surgery is a serious operation reserved only for those who are severely overweight, tummy tucks, the more extensive body lift, and breast lift and reduction are major surgery. Patients usually spend one or two days in the hospital and can resume activities of daily living, such as shopping and carrying groceries, in two to four weeks. They can start exercising about six weeks after the operation.
"After losing a great deal of weight, patients step on the scale and are delighted with the result. However, what they see in the mirror doesn't always reflect their hard work," Dr. Leipziger says. "They want to look as good as they now feel, and the body lift or tummy tuck can help them achieve that. Some people experience a remarkable boost in self-confidence as a result."
"It's what I always dreamed of, and now I have it," says Debra, who, during a trip to Florida this summer, put on a bathing suit and felt good in it for the first time in her life. "I feel really good, very confident." Shopping, once a dreaded chore, is now fun. "When I walk into a store, I feel I look good. It's nice to try on those little tops and see they fit."