Blog — Notes of a Plastic Surgeon

Welcome to my blog. I am a plastic surgeon in Seattle and have been in private practice since 1991. I've seen more than a few interesting faces and cases through my years spent in the exam room, the operating room and the emergency room. And I have an opinion on just about everything relating to plastic surgery (and a lot of unrelated stuff). If you like my blog, let me know. Thanks for reading! Lisa

Fillers that I don’t like. I hope they don’t take it personally.

September 21st, 2017 — 2:10pm

Seattle Plastic Surgeon blogs about fillers she does not like and does not use.  

I’ve written many blogs on the miracles of fillers for facial aging.  I think they are the best thing for facial maintenance since sunscreen.

Facial silicone gone bad. Really, really bad.

Facial silicone gone bad. Really, really bad.

The fillers I really like and use a lot are Voluma, Juvederm, Restylane, and Perlane which are all hyaluronic acid (HA) fillers.   The thing I love about HA fillers is their ease of use, safety, and their reversibility when a rare patient (1 every five years or so) does not like the result.  The HA fillers can be reversed by injecting an enzyme which dissolves the filler within 24 hours.

I also use fat as a facial filler in some cases. The thing I like about fat is that there is usually an abundant supply and it is often very, very long lasting and sometimes permanent.

There are other fillers out there.  Here’s my list of fillers that I just don’t like or use.  Full disclosure here:  this is based solely on my (sometimes very limited) experience, hearsay, prejudice and my risk adverse nature.  Some of my colleagues use these regularly and successfully but these fillers just give me the creeps.

  • Collagen:  It is sooooo yesteryear.  Even when it was the only legit filler out there, I didn’t like it.  Patients needed a skin test 30 days prior to using Collagen.  The results were fleeting and even a detail freak like me had trouble getting a nice smooth result.  Oh, it also had to be refrigerated and shelf life was very limited.  Oh, one more thing, it comes from cows.
  • Radiesse:  This is used quite a bit in the Seattle area but it gives me the creeps.  It’s made of teeny, tiny spheres of calcium hydroxylapatite and provides a scaffold for connective tissue growth.   It is quite thick and can fill in deep creases nicely but can also result in nodule formation.  Radiesse lasts 1 -2 years which is great (unless you are one of the unlucky ones who develops nodules).   I used it a few times years ago in a a few  employees who volunteered (really, they did) to be my training subjects.  All three of them bruised really, really badly and I felt like a worm until their bruising resolved.   I don’t have a cajones to try it again.
  • ArteFill:  Yikes.  This is a scary one.  This is a permanent filler which is made up of teeny, tiny spheres of polymethylmethacrylate.  They elicit a “foreign body response” which walls off the little spheres with collagen.   It also requires a skin test 30 days before injection because the sphere are carried in liquid collagen.  My training subjects this time were two pals of mine.  Both had negative skin tests.  My first patient did fine and is still my pal.  The second patient, who was from out of state,  had to delay her injection because a family illness prevented her from traveling.  Four months later, she had a rip-roaring inflammatory reaction to the little spot on her forearm where I had injected the test dose.  It was by the grace of a good and loving God I had not injected her face.  She is still one of my very best pals.  I have also seen many case reports and a couple of patients with poor results from ArteFill.  The only way to get rid of it is to surgically remove it.
  • Sculptra:  Sculptra stimulates dermal fibrosis and thickens the skin.   This is filler was first introduced about 10 years ago for use in patients with HIV.  The medications that many HIV patients rely upon to stay healthy have the side effect of facial wasting.  This filler is made of poly-L-lactic acid, the same chemical that a common suture, Vicryl, is made of.  I use Vicryl a lot.  It is easy to sew with.  It provides strength and support for a couple of months while an incision heals and then the body absorbs sit.  But once in awhile, a patient has an inflammatory reaction to the suture.  I have had maybe a dozen patients over 20 + years of practice who have “spit” every single stitch.  There are many case reports of disfiguring inflammatory reactions to Sculptra and all I have to do is think of one of my Vicryl “allergic” patients and I break out into a cold sweat.  Am I a wimp or what?
  • Silicone:  This is the Queen Mother of Bad Fillers (in my humble opinion).  It has been used for decades and is responsible for the permanent disfiguration of many, many patients.  I will never forget a lecture I attended when I was a surgery resident on the treatment of a bizarre condition called Romberg’s disease.  This disease causes profound atrophy of facial fat.  Way back when, these patients were injected with medical grade silicone and initially it was beneficial.  But fast forward 10, 20 even 30 years and many of these patients went on to develop severe inflammatory reactions that were more disfiguring than the original disease.  I know of a plastic surgeon in Hawaii who used this stuff on his wife’s lips.  Yikes.

So there is my personal rogue gallery of “no thanks” fillers.  All of these (I think) are still in the good graces of the F.D.A. but you won’t find them on my shelf.

Hey, thanks for reading.  That was a slog, wasn’t it?  Dr. Lisa Lynn Sowder



Facial Fillers, Fat Injection

My Annual Chico Retreat

September 11th, 2017 — 2:59pm

Cowgirls left to right: Ginny, Patty, me, Stacy and Janis. This was just before dinner at the Yellowstone Club in 2016.

Later this month I’m heading to Chico Hot Springs in Montana for my annual Cowgirl Retreat with 4 of my best buddies from – gasp – high school.  We’ve been doing this every September for twenty years or so.  We are all pretty fit so we usually do a couple of hikes, one easy and one badass.  But mostly we stand around in the big, naturally heated hot spring pool and catch up on each other’s lives.  One thing that is a little weird is that we are all in health care.  I’m a physician.  Patty is a veterinarian, Stacy is an OB-gyn nurse, Ginny is a nutritionist, and Janis runs an ultrasound department.  So, yeah, we’ve been know to talk shop a little bit but it’s mostly about husbands, ex-husbands, children, grandchildren (!), the good old days and how lucky we are to be happy and healthy and together again for a few days.

Thanks for reading!  Dr. Lisa Lynn Sowder.


Continuity of Care – A Great Value!

August 31st, 2017 — 1:55pm

Seattle Plastic Surgeon implores patients not to fall for “Botox on Sale”.

Occasionally I have patients come in for Botox or fillers who have flitted around from doctor to doctor looking for the “best price”.   I hear statements like  “the last Botox didn’t work” , “the Restylane didn’t last”, “I’m not sure what she used but I didn’t like it”, and this is my favorite, “it was on sale but it didn’t last”.

This flitting around in search of a “deal” makes it very hard for a hardworking plastic surgeon (moi, for example) to figure out what, where and how much injectable to inject.  In my practice, we keep very accurate records of all of the above so I can judge what works best for any given patient.   And believe me, every patient is different.

Sometimes I think just because it is “cosmetic”,  patients don’t take these treatments seriously enough.  I cannot imagine anyone shopping around for the “best” price on, say, steroid injections into a bum shoulder or the “best” price for an hour of psychotherapy!

Usually continuity of care provides the best value of all, even if the prices are not bargain basement.  So for injectables, find a good doctor and stick (nice pun, huh?) with him/her.

Thanks for reading and follow me on Instagram @sowdermd and @breastimplantsanity.  Dr. Lisa Lynn Sowder

General Health, Non-invasive, Patient Beware, Plastic Surgery, Skin Care

Self Harm Scars

August 28th, 2017 — 2:57pm

There is no easy treatment for self harm scars.

blog cutting scars self-injury-scars-before-after-treatment-2

Surgery probably won’t help but camouflage tattooing might.

I get a lot of questions about “scar removal” and sometimes these scars are self inflicted.  Cutting, as it is called, occurs most commonly in the young and is associated with a myriad of mental health problems.  Often the turmoil that characterizes these challenging years dissipates with maturity but unfortunately the scars of cutting do not dissipate.  In addition to being unsightly, these scars serve as a reminder to the patient and to others who see them of a difficult and unpleasant period of life.  And unfortunately, these scars are very difficult to treat.   Contrary to popular wishful thinking, scars can never be removed.  They can only be revised and replaced with a better scar.  With a typical scar revision, the surgeon would endeavor to replace a wide and pink and firm scar with a narrow, soft and pale scar.  And most cutting scars are already narrow, soft and pale so there is little to no room for improvement.   And most times there are so many of them.

I rarely recommend surgical treatment of these types of scars.  The most reasonable treatment, in my opinion, is camouflage tattoo.  A good tattoo artist is able to restore a more normal color to these scars.  Often times, these scars are on areas of the body (inner arm, thighs, abdomen) that do not get a lot of sun and this makes camouflage tattoo pretty reasonable.

Oh, and it’s not just disturbed teenagers who have these scars.  I occasionally see a perfectly well-adjusted and happy middle aged patient who comes in for liposuction or a face lift or some other procedure who has these scars.  They are a testament to the reality that most of time, the angst of youth – well, it just gets better.

Thanks for reading and follow me on Instagram @sowdermd and @breastimplantsanity.   Dr. Lisa Lynn Sowder

Scar, Skin Care

Anatomical versus Round Implants: The study that could never be done was done.

August 4th, 2017 — 10:57am

Can’t tell which side is anatomic and which side is round? Neither can I!

I think the anatomic implants vs. round implants smack down may finally be over.  As those who read my blog know, I am not a huge fan of anatomic implants although I have tried really, really hard to learn to love them over many, many years.  Anatomic implants are presented as the best thing since microwave nachos and those of us who keep going back to round implants are sometimes dismissed as Luddites.  Anatomic implants are pushed by industry paid “experts” who make the rounds at meetings and extol the wonder of these more-expensive-and-more-complicated-than-round implants.  And patients ask for these anatomic implants being lead to believe that they will look more natural.  

A few years ago, evidence started trickling in that anatomic implants actually did not have  advantages over round implants in standard breast augmentation in anatomically normal women. There were studies where before and after photos were shown to expert plastic surgeons and they could not tell which patients had which implants.  I was present at one of these sessions where a panel of experts did no better than a coin toss.  But the study that nobody thought could be done – put an anatomic in one side and a round in the other side on the same patient – has been done!  No patient would sign up for having two differently shaped implants used for her augmentation and no institutional review board would approve such a study.  But some very clever surgeons did this study in 75 volunteers.   Their average age was 39 and their average BMI was 20 (this, by the way, is quite thin).  The surgeons took the patients to the OR and put a round implant in one side and a comparably sized anatomic implant in the other side and then took standardized photographs.  They then removed the anatomic implant and replaced it with a round implant to match the other side.  The standardized photographs were shown to a panel of experts.  Even the panel of experts could not tell the round vs. the anatomic when presented with these side by side breast implants!

I really take my hat off to the Drs. Hidalgo and Weinstein for doing this study.  It is this sort of research that helps us make decisions based on reality rather than the latest hype from an industry hired gun.  

Intraoperative Comparison of Anatomical versus Round Implants in Breast Augmentation:  A Randomized Controlled Trial.  Hidalgo, David A. M.D.: Weinstein, Andrew L. M.S., Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery:  March 2017, Pages 587-596.

Thanks for reading!  Dr. Lisa Lynn Sowder



Breast Contouring, Breast Implants, New Technology

Lawn Mower Safety

July 18th, 2017 — 11:42am

Seattle Plastic Surgeon (and mother of three) Dr. Lisa Lynn Sowder nags her children and you about lawn mower lawn mowing

It is such a wonderful thing to get some yard work out of my offspring now that they are old enough to mow, rake, sweep, weed, water, trim, edge, poop scoop, etc.  As much as I love the smell of newly mown grass and the thought of them working (instead of me), I worry.  I worry about the lawn mower thus the little nag session each and every time one of my boys has been nagged into mowing the lawn.

Here is my list of lawn mower safety tips.

        • Only children over 13 should mow a lawn.
        • One person only should be on the lawn being mowed.  That would be the person behind or on the mower.
        • NO PETS unless it’s a rabbit you really wish you had never adopted.
        • Always wear socks and heavy shoes and gloves.
        • Always wear eye protection.
        • Ear plugs okay but not no ipod listening.  They need to hear you yell, “Watch out for the dog!”
        • No mowing until the offspring has cooled down from his/her rage at having to actually perform agreed upon chores for agreed upon bennies.  Rage and lawn mowers should never coexist.
        • If the mower malfunctions, turn it off and don’t even think about flipping it over unless a knowledgeable and responsible adult is present.
        • Leave sharpening to the experts.  Oh, unless you work in a lawn mover sharpening shop, you are not an expert.
        • No using the lawn mover for anything other than mowing the lawn.  This calls for a cautionary (and I swear to God true) tale.  Two patients in the same day present with nearly identical lawn mower injuries sustained while attempting to trim a hedge with a lawn mower.  Patient #2  happen to see patient #1 (prior to his mishap) trimming his hedge with the lawn mower while Patient #2 was driving to get gas for his lawn mower and thought “Hey, what a great idea.” Not.

Stay tuned.  One of these blogs I will tell you about my dad’s snowblower injury.  His bloody glove is still nailed to the wall of his shop some 30 years later.

Thanks for reading.  Dr. Lisa Lynn Sowder

Gardening, General Health, Trauma

4th of July Buzzkill

July 1st, 2017 — 7:45am

Seattle Plastic Surgeon and mother of two young adult men is a total buzzkill on the 4th of July.

Shall we limit the fireworks to glow worms this year?

For most people, the 4th of July is a nice holiday filled with family, friends, good food and maybe some good fireworks.  But……..for the plastic surgeon on call for the emergency room, the 4th of July can be a very, very busy day which continues into a very, very busy night.

I’m not on call this 4th of July and I feel kinda sorry for the plastic surgeon who is.  I know he or she will be waiting for that call to come in and treat the kid with the facial burns or a 25 year old computer programmer with a blown off finger.  The plastic surgeon won’t even be able to enjoy a brewski with his hamburger and potato salad because more likely than not, he’ll be working.

I love fireworks when supervised by a responsible adult and when lit by individuals who wear eye protection, long sleeves and pants and gloves.  I hate fireworks when lit by teenage boys who are by definition immortal, at least in their minds.  And if the numbers are true, the danger doesn’t end when junior turns 20 or 30 or even 40.  The most injuries occur in men over 36!  Hummmm- something to do with a Y chromosome?

Most people read about these injuries in the newspaper or hear about them on the news but this plastic surgeon and mother sees these injuries and how one lousy M-80 can ruin your musical career if it blows up in your hand or worse if it blows up in your face.

Take a look at theses stats from the Washington State Patrol and keep your eye on those teenage boys of yours.  Oh, and keep an eye on those older dudes too.  I can assure you that the plastic surgeon on call would rather not be seeing them this 4th of July.

Thanks for reading and have a happy and safe 4th of July.  Dr. Lisa Lynn Sowder

Children, Emergency Room, Hand Surgery, Plastic Surgery, Trauma

I have oldish breast implants. Should I get an MRI?

June 29th, 2017 — 3:09pm

MRI is the best test for detecting implant rupture (other than surgery) with a very high accuracy rate, much higher and mammogram, ultra sound or physical exam.  I think it is prudent for patients with gel implants, say 10 years old or older to get an MRI to make sure there is not a silent rupture.  If a patient has saline implants, there is no possibility of a silent rupture so an MRI would be worthless unless there is another reason for MRI (cancer detection for example).  I often have patients who are coming in to have their old gel implants removed regardless if they are intact or ruptured and in those cases I don’t really think an MRI is absolutely necessary.  Yes, it is nice for the surgeon to know ahead of time if there is a rupture but honestly, I approach every implant removal as if the implant is ruptured.  I try to do an en block resection and have everything ready in the event the implant is ruptured and there is silicone spillage.  We have special suction set up for ruptured implants and also some old fashioned surgical lap pads ready for clean up.  And even with a rupture, it’s usually not as messy and one might think it would be.  Even the messiest cases almost always allow the surgeon to scoop out the gel and then get all of the capsule.

“Just relax. It doesn’t hurt one bit but it is a little noisy.”

In Seattle at Swedish Medical Center, as of 2017, an out-of-pocket MRI to rule out breast implant rupture is about $1300 – $2200.  If you pay up front, you get the lower price.  The actual procedure requires the patient to lie prone (on the stomach) with the breasts hanging though these little openings in the MRI bed.  It’s important to lie really, really still for a good image.  MRI does not involve any irradiation so don’t worry about that but it can be kinda noisy with pings and dings.  When I had my knee scanned, they gave me earplugs. And after an MRI, please make sure you get the radiologist report.  It is more useful than the actual MRI itself.  Plastic surgeons are not experts at reading MRI’s although we can usually see an obvious rupture. More subtle things may not be obvious to us.  

Thanks for reading and if you are concerned about your oldish gel implants and an MRI will either ease your mind or prod you into action, you should get one!  If are ready to bid goodbye to your oldish implants regardless of their status, come on in.  I’m here to help!

Thanks for reading!  Dr. Lisa Lynn Sowder.    Follow me on Instagram @sowdermd and @breastimplantsanity.

Breast Implant Removal, Breast Implants

Breast Feeding and Breast Implants

June 24th, 2017 — 8:56pm

In a perfect world, women would wait until they were done childbearing and breast feeding prior to having breast implants, mostly because pregnancy and breast feeding can really change the breast.  In the real world, many young women opt for breast enhancement long before having children. I am often asked what effect childbearing will have on an implanted breast.  My answer?  Some ladies do great and some don’t.  I don’t have a crystal ball.  I do tell patients that whatever happens to their breasts, I can likely fix it!  

I am also often asked about the effect implants have on breast feeding and if feeding a baby from an augmented breast is safe for the baby.  Here is what I know based on reading the literature and listening to patients for 25+ years. 

In the recent “Cohort Study to Assess the Impact of Breast Implants on Breastfeeding” conducted by lactation specialists and doctors in Argentina published in the December 2016 Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Journal (PRS Vol. 138, 1152-1159, 2016) 100 women with breast implants and 100 women without breast implants were followed from the time of childbirth through about 3 months.  All of these women received instruction and encouragement to breast feed by lactation specialists. Here’s what was found:  99 of the 100 women without implants were able to breast feed.  93 of the 100 women with breast implants were able to breast feed.  This was not found to be statistically significant.  At 3 months, more women without breast implants were breast feeding exclusively than the women with breast implants.  This was statistically significant.   The study showed no correlation in the type of implant or incision location as to the ability or inability to breast feed.  Sooo…it would appear that breast implants may impact the quantity of milk production and it may be necessary to supplement.  I have been telling my young patients for years if they will feel like a terrible mother if they are unable to breast feed, they may want to wait on that breast augmentation. I think based on this study I will change that to breast feed exclusively. I also over share with these patients that I am a lactational failure and my children (now 20, 20 and 16) have had one ear infection, 2 broken bones, one cavity, one torn thumb ligament between them and all are healthy and happy.  And I felt like a horrible mother for awhile but got over it. I also refer them to a article that appeared in the Atlantic in 2009: The Case Against Breast Feeding written by Hanna Rosen, the mother of three breast fed children.  It’s an fact filled and thoughtful look at this very prickly topic. It made this lactational failure feel a little better!

Is it dinner time?

And lately I have been questions about the safety of breast milk from an implanted breast.  I think some of this is being stirred up by the breast implant illness community which is doing its best to have breast implants banned.  One of the breast implant illness web sites has an extensive diatribe about this and there is also a recent alarmist Instagram post on this topic.  In doing a little research of the peer reviewed literature, I did come up with a paper regarding silicone gel implants and breast milk.  This paper (PRS Vol. 102, 528-522, 1998) looked at silicon levels (silicon is the element that silicone is made of) in breast milk in patients with and without breast implants and also in cow’s milk and various formulas. This study was done way back in 1997 at the University of Toronto.  The researchers looked at the milk of 15 mothers of newborns with silicone gel implants and 34 mothers of newborns without implants.  The silicon levels in the implant group was lower than the non-implant group although the difference was not statistically significant.  Now here’s the kicker. The silicon levels in cow’s milk (presumably the cows did not have breast implants although that is not stated in the paper) was over 13 times that of the mother’s milk!  Twenty six formulas were tested and they ranged from 13 times to 433 times that of mother’s mild.  The soy-based formulas had some of the highest levels!  

How can this be????  Again this study did not measure silicone (the rubbery stuff made from elemental silicon).  Silicone is a big fat molecule and cannot be dissolved in solution and therefore cannot be measured.  Silicon, the element, can be measured.  And silicon is everywhere.  Silicon is the second most abundant element on  the earth’s crust, second only to oxygen.  Silicone, the man made rubbery stuff, is also very abundant in medical devices, prosthetics, pharmaceuticals and many consumer products (I love my silicone oven glove). Oh, and it’s used to make nipple shields for breast feeding moms and bottle nipples for bambino.  

The other issue is the location of breast implants in relation to the milk producing glands and the lactiferous (great word) ducts.  Implants on top of the muscle sit under the breast tissue and are in contact with some of the milk producing gland but are well away from the ducts.   Implants under the muscle are not really in contact with the breast much at all.  I don’t have the imagination to visualize big gooey silicone blobs getting though the wall of an intact implant, thorough the fibrous scar capsule and into the milk producing glands and travelling out of the ducts.  I have removed a bajillion ruptured gel implants and have never seen or heard of leakage of gel from one of my patient’s nipples. 

Based on this information and my intimate knowledge of the location of breast implants in relation to the milk glands and milk ducts, I would not advise patients with intact silicone gel implants to forego breastfeeding because of fear of some sort of contamination of their breast milk.  If an implant is ruptured, I think it would be prudent to bottle feed.

So there you have it, my take on breast feeding and breast implants.  Mothering is a wonderful, mysterious and complex task and sometimes doesn’t include lactation (and sometimes doesn’t even include giving birth).  I think most patients are very capable of making up their own minds about if and when they desire breast enhancement with breast implants.

Thanks for reading!  Dr. Lisa Lynn Sowder 


Clinical research is really, really difficult!

June 19th, 2017 — 6:19pm

That’s a lot of paper work!

I was doing some office spring cleaning the other day and came across two file boxes of patient charts from a breast implant study I participated in years ago. The study was the McGahn Silicone Breast Implant Adjuvant Study which was being conducted to gather information about the efficacy and safety of silicone gel breast implants which had been taken off the market in the early 1990’s. I enrolled 56 patients over about 9 years and had a study completion rate of about 80%. I remember how difficult it was to get patients to come in for follow-up although that was part of the agreement in order for a patient to participate. The follow-up was free but it still took phone calls, letters, e-mails and a little begging to get some patients to come in. During this study one of the new implants, the 153 anatomic gel, was found to have a very high early rupture rate and was quickly taken off the market. I had several patients with this implant that required removal and replacement but I had no other serious adverse events. I was happy to participate in this study even though it was a ton of work for me, my patients and my staff. It was many, many surgeons participating in studies such as this that lead to the new generation of gel implants being put back on the market and made available to patients for breast enhancement or reconstruction. Some groups that are pushing to have breast implants banned have criticized these clinic studies and have pointed out the less than perfect follow-up. I cannot speak for other study participants but we worked very, very hard to get our follow up number. I think that the difficulty of clinic studies is not appreciated by those who have not participated either as investigators or patients. And the think most of the lay public is clueless on this topic. I have done a lot of research in my career, mostly lab research in college, medical school and residency and mostly clinical in practice and I can say that I think lab research is a lot easier!

Thanks for reading! Dr. Lisa Lynn Sowder
Follow me on Instagram @sowdermd and@breastimplantsanity

Breast Contouring, Breast Implant Removal, Breast Implants

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