“Half a century since silicone breast implants became available, and millions of operations later, they are still causing controversy.”
The Sydney Morning Herald reports,
IT WAS in 1962 that Timmie Jean Lindsey was offered a solution to a non-existent problem. A factory worker from Texas, she had married at 15, had six children, divorced in her mid-20s, and taken up with a man who encouraged her to have a vine tattooed on her cleavage. Roses tumbled across her breasts.
When the relationship faltered, Lindsey decided she wanted the tattoos removed. “I was ashamed,” she says, “and I needed them taken off.” Her low-paid work made her eligible for treatment at a charity hospital, where she was told the tattoo could be removed through dermabrasion. And the doctors had another proposal. Had she ever thought about breast implants?
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Lindsey had not. She had never felt self-conscious about her breasts — and even if she had, the options at that time were primitive and problematic, involving substances injected directly into women’s chests, or implants made of sponge.
“The only person I’d ever talked to about breast implants was my cousin,” says Lindsey, “who had had some kind of surgery. She said: ‘Sometimes I wake up and my breast has moved to another part of my body,’ and I thought: ‘My God. I never want that.’ It wasn’t long after she and I talked that I came into contact with these doctors.”
The team was led by Dr Thomas Cronin, who had been developing the world’s first silicone breast implants. Thomas Biggs, then 29, and a surgical resident under Cronin, says the idea came about when one of his colleagues, Frank Gerow, went to the blood bank. “They’d stopped putting liquids in glass bottles, and begun putting them into plastic bags,” says Biggs, “and he was walking in the hall with this bag of blood, and felt that it had the softness of a breast.”
Around the same time, Cronin travelled “to New Orleans to a plastic surgery meeting and encountered a former resident of his. This fellow told him there was a company who had a new product which was interesting because it had very little body reaction, and could be made into a variety of thicknesses, a variety of viscosities, all the way from liquid to solid. If you can make a solid, you can make a bag — and if you can make a liquid, you can make something that goes in it.”
Cronin had the idea for a breast implant. A prototype was created, and implanted into a dog. “That worked OK,” says Biggs, “and so then they got to Timmie Lindsey.” After spending some time with the doctors, she says, “they asked me if I wanted implants, and I said: ‘Well, I don’t really know.’ The only thing I’d ever thought about changing was my ears. I told them I’d rather have my ears fixed than to have new breasts, and they said, well, they’d fix that too. So I said, OK. When they put the implants in they said: ‘Do you want to see them?’ and I said: ‘No, I don’t want to look at it. You put it in me, and it’ll be out of sight, out of mind. My theory was that if you think you’ve got something foreign inside you you’re just going to worry about it.”
She’s 80 today, still living in Texas, working night shifts in a care home, and those first, experimental globes remain in her chest…