Local mom issues warning after breast implant nightmare
IDAHO FALLS — For Liza Hanks, the phrase “mom bod” accurately described her self-image after having two kids.
“I felt like having children had taken a lot of that perkiness, and I felt like, ‘I want to get breast implants,'” she says.
Hanks was highly unsatisfied with the look of her breasts, and she thought implants were a lasting solution.
In 2008 Hanks underwent breast augmentation. Plastic surgeons inserted saline implants, and Hanks felt a new found confidence.
Years passed without an issue, and Hanks enjoyed the look of her implants. But in 2015, her health began to take a turn for the worse, and she soon found the implants weren’t worth the risk.
“I found a lump in my right breast, and I went in for a mammogram scared to death that it was breast cancer,” Hanks recalls.
During a mammogram, a patient’s breast is placed on a flat support plate and compressed with a parallel plate called a paddle. Hanks says the pressure of the machine pushed the implant in her right breast down, and she heard a tear as the right saline implant “bottomed out.”
“I was lopsided, but more importantly they found a golfball-sized mass in my right side. They said, ‘You have to get this out, and it has to be biopsied for cancer,'” Hanks says.
She set the critical appointment to have the mass removed, as well as a replacement for her implants.
“I thought, ‘Well, it’s time to upgrade. It’s time to get a new set in,'” Hanks says.
Many women with implants have them replaced every seven to 10 years, so Hanks dropped $10,000 on new textured ‘gummy bear’ silicone implants that were expected to have a longer life than her old saline ones.
Doctors removed the lump, which was benign. But when Hanks awoke from her procedure, she didn’t feel quite like herself.
“I knew immediately something was wrong,” Hanks says.
Breast implant illness
Over the weeks and months following the surgery, Hanks experienced a myriad of symptoms and more than just an allergic reaction to the 40-plus chemicals found in a breast implant. It first started with the discoloration around her eyes.
“They were just purple and red. They would burn, and it was really hard to see out of them. I went to various doctors to try and figure out what was causing this weird reaction,” Hanks says.
In conjunction with those symptoms, Hanks’ incisions weren’t healing. She experienced inflammation, confusion, extreme levels of anxiety, muscle aches and food intolerances. Soon her skin started shedding, her hair was falling out, and she dramatically lost weight.
“Common sense says, ‘It’s the implants. You just got implants,’ but there were so many studies done by the implant manufacturers that it couldn’t be the implants,’ especially where breast implant illness is not recognized by the majority of the medical community,” Hanks says.
Hanks says she was dying, and her 31-year-old body began to take the shape of a 92-year-old’s.
Her last chance
While weighing 87 pounds, Hanks’ parents brought her to see Dr. Jeffrey Baker, an old friend who was practicing medicine in Idaho Falls.
“When Liza came to me, she was really sick,” Baker recalls. “I’m good friends with her dad, and he basically said, ‘We need someone to help save Liza. She’s so sick.'”
Baker is an obstetrician/gynecologist who runs the Healing Sanctuary. Over the last decade, he’s become familiar and certified in integrative functional medicine.
He says Hanks was a medical mystery when she came to see him, and she was “really sick.”
It took some time to get to the root cause of Hanks’ issue, and he thought the implants might have been the root of the problems. He’s had patients similar to Hanks, but the symptoms weren’t nearly as potent.
He tried various medical methods to try to restore Hanks’ health, but nothing worked.
“You could see her body trying to get rid of whatever was damaging it,” Baker says.
One day Baker came to a decision. He told Hanks she needed to have the implants removed.
“The whole story and the whole journey points down to those implants. I told her, ‘I really think you need to get those out,’ because we couldn’t find any other real source,” Baker says.
Removing the implants
Hanks accepted the answer as her last chance at life and went back to the plastic surgeon who placed the implants.
“(I said), ‘Look I don’t have much time, but I want the implants out. I do believe that this is the answer,'” Hanks says. “He said, ‘You’re just too sick. You’re too ill, and I really don’t want to do the surgery. I don’t think you’re healthy enough.'”
Hanks persisted, and with Baker’s help, the implants were removed the next day.
“I remember waking up. … I took my first full breath and I no longer felt like I was burning alive on the inside,” Hanks says.
From there, her progress was immediate. Her vision, skin and hair follicles began healing.
“I walked in two weeks after post-op into my plastic surgeon. I bounced in there, and I was like, ‘Hey I’m alive,’ and he was like, ‘Wow,'” Hanks says.
Suffering leads to purpose
Hanks says she was lucky and blessed to find the right specialist to help her, and she’s taken on her second chance at life in finding a positive purpose behind her suffering.
“I was very very lucky and blessed to find the right specialist that could say. ‘Hey, you definitely had an autoimmune inflammatory response to breast implants and silicone, and thank goodness you got them out,'” Hanks says.
In 2017, more than 300,000 women and teenagers underwent surgery to have their breasts enlarged with silicone or saline implants, according to National Center for Health Research. The majority of surgeries result in little or no complications, but Hanks wants to help those who suffer following their procedures.
“There are a lot of women in the (online) breast implant illness groups that talk about how they can not find one doctor to back them and to support breast implant illness. I found four. I had incredible, amazing (doctors) — one of which I ended up marrying,” Hanks says.
After Hanks’ explant surgery, she dated ENT surgeon Dr. Kevin Hanks, who was instrumental in her recovery. Although she wasn’t his patient, he was able to find the right team of medical professionals who could further aid in her recovery.
Through his support and other local physicians, Hanks was able to get back on the road to healing.
She now feels it’s her responsibility to advocate for women and raise awareness about breast implant illness and those thinking of getting implants.
“They’re not totally safe. The 40-plus ingredients that make up a breast implant are not infallible in your body. They can rupture, they can leak, they can seep into your body,” Hanks says. “There is limited research about breast implants. I feel like women deserve more information out there.”
Hanks has joined other social media advocates and shares her health updates and story on her personal Instagram page. She’s also working on writing a book about her breast implant illness journey.
“I still see people that saw me on my deathbed and (they’re) completely blown away,” Hanks says. “That’s why I’m an advocate for breast implant illness.”