Houma resident Tina LeBoeuf recently had two life-changing experiences. The first was her choice: After having three children, she got a tummy tuck and breast implants. But then something over which she had no control happened.
"It was really supposed to be a renewal ... and an exciting time in my life," LeBoeuf says. "But two months (later), I felt a lump (in my breast) after the swelling went down. And after they did a biopsy, they told me I had breast cancer."
The last year has been tough for LeBoeuf, who underwent 16 rounds of chemotherapy and 25 rounds of radiation to fight her Stage III cancer diagnosis. "It was very hard doing work and still being a mom and going through cancer," LeBoeuf says. "But I was determined to not let the cancer win."
LeBoeuf's internal breast tissue was completely removed during surgery. An expander was inserted to keep the breast skin from collapsing. She chose to harvest fat from her lower body and have it placed around her new breast implant. In addition to rebuilding the breast and giving it a more natural appearance, the fat acts as a cushion between the breast implant and skin that is very delicate after being damaged by radiation treatments.
"(In) the studies (coming) from Italy ... (by) using the fat grafting to the radiated tissue, you see regeneration of the tissue," says Dr. Kamran Khoobehi, LeBoeuf's plastic surgeon.
In addition, some of LeBoeuf's harvested fat will be stored at BioLife Cell Bank in Dallas for later cosmetic or medical use. The bank is growing daily, with hundreds of patients in the U.S. and Canada storing their fat, which can later be used for cosmetic procedures: building up a sagging face with or without a facelift, fixing old scars and depressions caused by liposuction, rejuvenating sagging earlobes, giving fullness to breasts that are natural or augmented, or providing a lift to buttocks. Fat can also fill out biceps, chest, hands, lips and calf muscles.
There's also the possibility that in the future, stored fat could cure serious illness and genetic conditions.
"Your adult stem cells are the highest concentration in your fat (compared to) any other part of the body by a magnitude of 500 times when you compare it to blood or bone marrow," says Raymond Zale, senior vice president of development for BioLife Cell Bank.
For LeBoeuf, having stem cell-rich fat around her new implant could keep thin, radiated breast skin from tearing down, and with her fat in a bank, any future reconstructive procedures would not require surgery in the operating room, just office injections. Khoobehi has developed low pressure techniques (collecting the fat by hand and through a water-jet machine) that keep the fat cells intact and living for a long time when grafted back into the body.
The cost for the first year of processing, preserving and storing harvested fat is around $1,700. Every year after that is around $200. The cost of processing stem cells is extra, but some doctors think storing harvested fat is worth the cost.
"When you look at the cost of using fillers and other (temporary) products ... that have to be re-injected every six ... or nine months versus using your own fat and ... having it last much longer ... I think it makes sense financially," says Dallas plastic surgeon Dr. Larry Weider.
Now, LeBoeuf is looking forward to her 25th wedding anniversary.
"We're going to go to Hawaii and renew our wedding vows," her husband Dwayne says, smiling.
"I am definitely holding him up to that trip to Hawaii for my anniversary," LeBoeuf says.
Look for Meg Farris' Medical Watch reports, including "Weight Loss Wednesday" and "Wrinkle Free Friday" stories, weeknights on WWL-TV Channel 4 and anytime on www.wwltv.com.