Karen Mackenzie

South Africa

I had a double mastectomy when I was 30 years old – this was after I had to endure 9 operations to remove various lumps caused by abnormal cells in my breasts. A few months later, I had silicone gel breast implants inserted.

I had terrible problems after the implants – my body kept rejecting them. After taking numerous antibiotics and having several hospital stays, everything settled down very nicely. Three months later I had nipple reconstruction done as well as scar revision because of the problems I had experienced before the implant surgery. After this, everything settled down and all was well.

About 7 years ago, at the age of 44, I noticed that the prosthesis started changing shape but never did anything about it. I noticed when I put my bra on that I would have to lean forward and ease the bumps under my arms into the bra cups because otherwise it would be very uncomfortable. This continued until approximately a month ago when I noticed red spots running across the mastectomy scars on my chest. I went to the doctor and was put on a very strong antibiotic for 5 days. The red marks changed colour but never went away altogether – I was then sent for an ultra sound scan and mammogram and the outcome was that both the prosthesis had burst.

I saw a plastic surgeon and he advised me that both prosthesis be removed immediately. He hoped that he would find the burst prosthesis still intact within the scar tissue but unfortunately this was not the case. The plastic surgeon had a really tough time removing as much of the silicone as possible and had to do an acetone wash as well. I did not have the burst prosthesis replaced as it was not recommended by my plastic surgeon. A decision whether or not to have reconstruction surgery will be discussed after three months.

I had several symptoms before the prosthesis were removed. My joints were sore – my knees gave me a lot of problems especially when climbing stairs, getting in and out of the car, terrible pains in my upper arms as well as a burning chest pain. Anti inflammatory medication was prescribed and that provided some relief. The pains in my arms were dreadful – it felt like I had been lifting heavy weights and had actually torn something. For a long time, I didn’t realize that the symptoms I was experiencing were caused by the burst prosthesis.

After the explant operation, however, the pain disappeared. Unfortunately, I then developed a terrible chest infection. More antibiotics were prescribed but I am still coughing and having pains in my chest. On an x-ray taken before my operation my right lung had what looked liked cotton wool on it – I don’t know what is in my lungs but would like advice as to whether this should be investigated further. I still get terrible headaches and take a paracetamol, which does help but a few hours later the headache returns – it seems to be on the top of my head all the time. My eyesight has also deteriorated and now I cannot see without my glasses at all.

I had my burst prosthesis removed on the 21 May 2009, and I am definitely feeling a lot better but not 100% myself. I have to return to the plastic surgeon to check the wounds and collection of blood that keeps filling up the cavities in my chest. This is drained each time, which feels uncomfortable.