Jamee Cook

unnamed   In 1998, I made a decision that changed my life forever: to get breast implants. It wasn’t anyone’s decision but mine. I was a confident young woman, but I guess felt like my femininity was lacking due to my AA breasts. Hindsight sure changes our perspectives, though.

    My Dallas plastic surgeon chose textured, saline implants above the muscle. The surgery went great and it was definitely a confidence booster for me. I liked the way that they looked.

    My husband and I had our first son in 2000. I had some difficulty breastfeeding. Shortly after birth, I noticed that my breasts looked weird. After some research, I realized that I had developed symmastia. This is sometimes referred to as “breadloafing” or “uniboob”. So, I went back to my original surgeon. He wasn’t concerned, saying that my breasts look similar to his wife’s. This wasn’t reassuring. I consulted with another Dallas plastic surgeon. He said that surgery to fix the problem would cost $7500.  I knew that would have to wait.

    In early 2002, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and given medication. I then became pregnant with our second son. I again had difficulty breastfeeding. He was healthy when he was born, but two weeks later he was hospitalized, endured a spinal tap, developed hypoxia (lack of oxygen), and failure to thrive. He was hospitalized several times during his first few years and diagnosed with immune dysfunction. If weird things could develop, it would happen to him.

    Over the next few years, my health declined. I began to develop fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, and a low grade fever. I was employed as a paramedic in an emergency room so I attributed my symptoms to job exposure. I knew that I didn’t feel good but I didn’t really know what was going on. Most lab tests were normal. I was treated for chronic sinus infections. My anxiety worsened and brain fog began. My home life suffered because I couldn’t keep things organized. It was a big mess. I was eventually diagnosed with ADD and treated for that and depression.

    I left my ER job to work at a pediatric clinic.  I was still sick. I had surgery in 2009 surgery to try and correct my sinus problems, but they continued.  In 2010, I began to have very painful nodules in my neck and chest. I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease. I also was diagnosed with CMV (Cytomegalovirus) and Chronic EBV (Epstein-Barr). They are both very common but my body just didn’t seem to fight them off. The combination of chronic viruses and autoimmune illness resulted in a diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

    I quit my job.  At some point we could no longer afford insurance so I couldn’t even try to solve my medical problems.  My fatigue was ridiculous. I was way too young to feel the way that I did.

Over time, the implants decreased in size. In March of 2012, I woke up to find that my left implant had ruptured. I was completely distraught and embarrassed, but we weren’t in any financial shape to have them replaced.  For three years I made my breasts look even by inserting a silicone insert into my bra. The implant slowly leaked more and more. My husband said it didn’t bother him but it was very awkward for me. I couldn’t act appealing when I didn’t feel that way. Intimacy suffered. It was horrible to know that I was causing that much distress to my husband and marriage but didn’t have an answer to fix it.

        As a former paramedic, I looked for answers in medical journals and scientific publications and realized that my implants could be making me sick. I found a Dallas Explant surgeon, Dr. Edward Melmed, who no longer performs breast augmentation surgeries because he has seen too many sick women. He has now performed approximately 5,000 breast implant removal surgeries. He would eventually be the surgeon to remove my toxic bags.

    While saving money for explant, my life was chaotic. I couldn’t think straight or keep organized. My patience was very thin. My family life suffered. It took everything in my power just to get up and perform basic duties. My body felt like it was in a constant battle with itself. I needed to see specialists but didn’t have insurance and I couldn’t afford it. I felt like a complete failure. I had failed myself and my family.

    In August of 2015, Dr. Melmed removed my 17-year-old PIP implants and my capsules. It was a new beginning.

    I never tell any woman that all of their symptoms are from their implants. They most likely aren’t. I never tell any woman that explant is the answer to all of their problems. It isn’t. But, many of my unexplained symptoms went away immediately. The migraines, the low grade fever, the swollen lymph nodes, the arm and hand numbness, the brain fog – GONE. The burning sensation in my left breast after rupture – GONE. I still have viral illness I battle. I still have autoimmune Hashimoto’s. My health overall has greatly improved, though. My patience is better. My libido is better. The fatigue is still a battle but it is improved. I am able to interact with my children more. I was able to care for my papaw in the last year of his life.

And, I became an advocate.

  • I started a public Facebook group called Pursuing Explantation. This is where I first shared my journey and where I now share all of the publications I come across. It has videos and photos that the public can view.
  • I’ve joined forces with two fantastic women who have been diagnosed with breast implant-associated lymphoma (ALCL), and created a Facebook group for women to learn more about it. We work closely with Dr. Suzanne Turner, pathologist at the University of Cambridge, and with Dr. Mark Clemens, at MD Anderson in Houston. They have both been extremely helpful in helping us to advocate and to educate ourselves and the public on this rare disease.
  • I’ve joined with several other women to create an informal group called Breast Implant Victim Advocacy. We have joined forces with device victims, such as women harmed by Essure, to raise awareness about the larger picture. People are being harmed by medical devices because they aren’t help to the same safety standards as other medical products.
  • I’m a member of the new USA Patient Network and working with Consumer Union’s Safe Patient Project, to help raise awareness and to be a stronger advocate for safer medical products.

The same stories have been told by women with breast implants for more than two decades and their voices are not being heard. Many women have led the way for us. Social media helps today’s women combine their efforts to raise awareness. We need to be heard. Laws need to change. Surgeons and physicians need more awareness and more accountability. Patients need to be taken more seriously. The media needs to publicize these issues more. Momentum is building. Please help share our stories. If you are a victim and haven’t told your story, please do. Every story makes an impact.