Celebrating 50 Years of Silicone Breast Implants
Can you imagine being the very first woman ever to receive silicone breast implants? Timmie Jean Lindsey couldn’t picture it herself when she first visited plastic surgeon Dr. Frank Gerow to have tattoos removed from her breasts via dermabrasion. During a follow-up visit, Dr. Gerow suggested she try silicone breast implants, which were developed by he and plastic surgeon Dr. Thomas Cronin as a new technique for correcting sagging breasts. More concerned with the appearance of her ears than her breasts, Lindsey made a deal with Dr. Gerow to undergo the procedure if she could also receive cosmetic otoplasty (ear surgery). Lindsey became the first woman to receive silicone breast implants in 1962.
Lindsey paved the way for millions of women’s breast augmentation procedures including her daughter’s and granddaughter’s breast enhancement. Before the first breast implants were constructed, plastic surgeons tried breast enhancement methods like injecting silicone directly into the breasts. These methods produced poor results and caused infection, so the surgeons revised the technique by placing the silicone inside an elastomer shell.
Despite the fact Lindsey was not interested in breast enhancement in the beginning, she said she did receive more attention after the procedure even though she didn’t tell anyone about the breast implants for 30 years. She let her friends and family make their own assumptions of how her breasts grew from a B cup to a C cup practically overnight. About ten years after her procedure, Lindsey began to experience complications like capsular contracture. Rather than undergoing breast revision surgery as many women do who experience complications or just want to exchange their implants for a different size, Lindsey left her implants alone. Though not recommended knowing what we do today, she’s had them in place for 50 years now.
Breast implants have come quite a long way since 1962. You may have read about new breast implant technology on the rise like the bed-of-nails implant that repels breast cancer cells or biological breast implants that use a patient’s own fat encased in a shell to be inserted into a woman’s breast as a more natural solution for breast implants. Although neither of these types of breast implants are available yet, the FDA did recently approve a new type of silicone breast implant. Plastic surgeons are constantly testing breast implants, surgical devices, and plastic surgery technology to make them safer and improve results.
It is important to note breast implants are not lifetime devices. Lindsey can be viewed as an exception. Some patients’ breast implants last longer than others, but it is very important to go to routine follow-up appointments and receive regular mammograms as directed by your physician after breast augmentation surgery.
Nowadays, many plastic surgeons would have probably suggested Lindsey receive breast lift surgery to correct sagging breasts with or without breast implants, depending on her desires. Dr. James Namnoum conducts extensive plastic surgery consultations with each patient prior to their procedure to learn about their medical history, to find out what they hope to accomplish with their surgery, and to help the patient feel comfortable going into surgery.
The Worlds First Boob Job, Then and Now.
Timmy Jean Lindsay - First Woman To Get Breast Implants
Timmy Jean Lindsay in 1962 and today.
A retired neurologist and former friend of the plastic surgeon talks about Gerow and his colleague Dr. Thomas Cronin’s largely unsuccessful experiments with breast implants before Timmie Jean herself actually went under the scalpel. “First they tried direct injections of silicone into women who were, by and large, the wives of medical students,” Dr. Bernard Patten recalls. “They had massive inflammatory reactions and it gave them hard, painful, disgusting-looking breasts.” It was because of this misstep that the plastic surgeons decided to enclose the silicone in a bag, in a development that would lead to the breast implants that we know today.
Despite that fact that Gerow was a qualified plastic surgery professor at Houston’s esteemed Baylor University medical school, at least one colleague of his feared that Gerow was taking advantage of the vulnerability of Timmie Jean and the 11 other women who agreed to take part in the plastic surgery “study.” There were serious doubts about the impropriety of the boob job experiments, but Gerow was reportedly determined to do something with plastic surgery that would trump the artificial heart a contemporary cardiovascular surgeon at Baylor was working on. Well, he certainly succeeded.
Timmie Jean says that when the anesthetic wore off, she felt like an elephant was sitting on her chest. But when the bandages came off ten days later, she recalls, her breasts looked beautiful, and all of the doctors were proud of the “masterpiece.” As word got out about Timmie Jean’s miracle boob job, women from all over began clamoring for the breast implants that the plastic surgeons claimed were crucial to the self esteem of women with “limited development of the breasts.” And the procedure would probably make all of them happier, they said.
Timmie Jean before and after receiving breast implants in 1962:
Timmie Jean may have been happier with her breast implants…until about ten years after the procedure, when she began to suffer from serious side effects of the boob job. First, her breasts began to harden, which she learned was caused by scar tissue that forms around the implant. According to studies on breast augmentation, one in five women with breast implants experience similar hardening, known as “capsular contracture.” In the eighties, Timmie Jean began to experience shooting pains, which doctors say is the most common complication with breast implants. Timmie Jean also suffered from additional complications of the boob job, including dry eyes, dry mouth, rashes and chronic fatigue, explaining that she “was hurting everywhere.”
When Timmie Jean explained her symptoms to Dr. Gerow, he claimed that she was suffering from a series of other disorders, assuring her that “silicone does not make you sick.” Meanwhile, opponents of the breast implants insist Timmie Jean was experiencing classic symptoms of silicone damage. Other recipients of breast implants struggled with breast implant rupture, arthritis, paralysis, chest pains, migraines, and other life-altering complications. When tens of thousands of lawsuits began to be filed against Dow Corning (to whom Cronin and Gerow sold the rights to their invention), Timmie Jean refused to join the action, claiming that she had no complaints about the implants. This seems unlikely given the suffering Timmie Jean experienced because of the boob job, and could only be explained by the fact that she was paid off by the company. “A minimal amount,” she says.
As the plastic surgery industry grows exponentially in the United States and in other countries like Britain, bigger breasts are becoming more of a necessary accessory than anything else. In fact, industry experts report that a woman’s “ideal” size has grown from the C-cup Timmie Jean received, to a D. Unfortunately, the risk of severe complications associated with breast augmentation, including breast implant rupture, has not deterred the hundreds of thousands of women who go under the knife every year. Even Timmie Jean, whose unfortunate tale of insecurity and misplaced trust has brought to light the dark side of the plastic surgery industry, has decided to forgo breast implant removal and endure the pain her boob job has caused her – mostly because she is afraid of what might happen if she goes under.