YOUR HEALTH: A new technique for breast reconstruction

A doctor's childhood hobby is now helping women better recover from major breast surgery

HOUSTON — A surgeon who has an eye for fashion is using both of her passions to better help women who've undergone mastectomies.

It's helped change the life of Blitz Phillips, a young, newly married nurse now facing a bright future. 

It's a drastic improvement from eight years ago, when she discovered she carried the BRCA-1 gene and, at 26, underwent a double mastectomy.

"Over the course of your lifetime, your risk is about 95%," she explained.

In her mind, it wasn't "if" she would get breast cancer, but "when".

Blitz turned to Dr. Aldona Spiegel, who patented an internal reconstructive surgery procedure that includes an internal dermal brassiere.

"We have these beautiful young women who now are diagnosed with BRCA and need to have a preventative mastectomy," said Dr. Spiegel, a plastic surgeon at Houston Methodist Hospital.

Although mastectomies will save the lives of women, it also comes with an emotional burden.

"It affects your relationships," said Blitz.

"It affects how you look at yourself in the mirror. It affects everything mentally and physically."

Dr. Spiegel went back to her past to try to find a way to help women facing a radically changed future.

As a child, she spent hours designing and sewing new clothes for her dolls in her native Poland.   

In high school, Dr. Spiegel designed her own prom dress with a fitted bodice. 

That passion for design led to the invention of her patented dermal brassiere. 

She modified the designs she created as a child to create a tissue graft with collagen that conformed to the body.

"So, using this combination of collagen which acts like an internal brassiere that holds the implant, in a way that is above the muscle and isn't deformed by the muscle, allows a direct implant reconstruction for women, like Blitz."

Dr Spiegel uses specially designed tools, so the implants don't hurt post-surgery.

"She's avoiding putting the implant under the muscle," said Blitz.

"It's really a marriage of art and technique and creativity," added Dr. Spiegel.

Dr. Spiegel says the emotional component of this groundbreaking surgery is just as important as the operation itself. 

She travels the world teaching the procedure to other surgeons and encourages cancer patients to explore all of their options before making a decision.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.