WHEN Lori Steer underwent the same procedure as Angelina Jolie to reduce her risk of breast cancer she thought she was doing the right thing.
But the surgery went horribly wrong and she was left with two gaping holes in her chest after her implants became infected and the skin around them started to die.
Lori decided to have both her breasts removed after testing positive for the BRCA gene
Lori, 55, opted to get the surgery, known as prophylactic mastectomy, as breast cancer had dominated her family tree.
She had implants put in at the same time to reconstruct her breast but they became infected.
It is thought the infection occurred because she had the implants put in before her chest had a chance to heal from the mastectomy.
At one point the decaying skin was so bad that her ribs could be seen poking through the area where her breast tissue used to be.
Lori has a history of breast and ovarian cancers in her family
“I still definitely feel the procedure has saved my life,” Lori said.
“The chance of now getting breast cancer is less than two per cent. I’m still positive.
“However I would very much warn women to do their research and to perhaps wait until they are healed from the first surgery before even thinking of getting implants.”
Lori comes from a family of Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe.
She had implants put in straight after her mastectomy but they became infected
She said many of the women carry the faulty BRCA genes.
BRCA1 and BRCA2 produce tumour suppressor proteins, which raise the risk of DNA damage to cells and therefore the risk of breast and ovarian cancers.
Lori’s mum and two aunts all died from either breast or ovarian cancers.
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She decided to get tested for the gene in 2010 to see if she was at risk.
When it came back positive she had her ovaries removed in 2012.
Earlier this year she decided to have both her breasts removed.
But as she was a D cup she was keep to have implants done at the same time to make her a smaller B cup.
Lori had shunts put in her breasts to drain the build-up of fluid from the infection
The surgeon warned her that having the implants put in at the same time as the breast removal carried a higher risk of infection as the body doesn’t have time to heal from the loss of breast tissue.
He told her she was still a “good candidate” for the surgery.
But many women choose to have the surgery and then use expanders afterwards, which stretch the skin in preparation for implants.
“My mother had breast cancer at 58 years old and she died at 63,” Lori said.
“Her sister had breast cancer and then later ovarian cancer and she struggled for a lot longer but ultimately died in her early 70s.
Splash News Angelina Jolie underwent a preventative breast removal in 2013 after she tested positive for the gene
“They came from a family of five males and three females and all three of the women died of cancers at a pretty young age.
“I have a huge extended family and out of our first cousins I have six females who have tested positive for the gene who have either got breast cancer or had their breasts removed.
“I turned 55 this year, my aunt died at 55 and my mum was barely 55 when she was diagnosed.
“Each consecutive generation will probably get it a bit earlier so I felt like I was in a danger zone.
“I didn’t want to wind up with breast cancer, knowing I had the gene and not doing anything about it.”
Lori’s skin began to rot away because of the infection
Lori, who lives in Hawaii, went under the knife in August but almost immediately she felt something was wrong.
“I wanted to go smaller and directly to implant, so instead of removing the breast and using expanders to stretch the skin, I wanted to do implants straight away so I wouldn’t have to worry about more surgery later,” she said.
“In theory that was sensible, but the risk of infection when you do direct implants is much higher.
“I was healthy, I didn’t think there would be a problem.”
On her first follow up appointment, Lori said the surgeon noticed some areas weren’t getting enough oxygen and she had fluid build-up around her implants.
Drains were put in to deal with the fluid build-up but after a few weeks Lori was told her infected breasts were bad enough that the implants may have to be removed.
“My breasts were dying in front of my eyes,” she said.
The infection was caused because her body had not had enough time to heal after the mastectomy before the implants were put in
“Four weeks after, the plastic surgeon said ‘yep we definitely have to remove the implants because we don’t know where the infection is coming from’.
“The infection could have started anywhere – there could have been something on the implant, the surgeon could have had a pinhole in her glove, there was no-one to blame.
“I thought I was doing it all in one go to prevent myself having more surgeries but all I ended up with was more surgeries.
“Now I have had three and I have no breasts left.”
Lori was given antibiotics to stop her skin from rotting away but they did not work.
Before she had surgery to remove her implants she went into septic shock on August 31.
Doctors managed to stabilise her but had to take the implants out to find the source of the infection.
Despite her ordeal Lori said she would still encourage women to have a mastectomy if they test positively for the BRCA gene
They were forced to leave the wounds open as they couldn’t close them up with the infection still there.
For weeks Lori was left with holes where her boobs should have been.
“He couldn’t sew them up because there was so much infection in there.
“I cleaned them out and put bandages on.”
Now, the wounds are closing but she still has devastating scars that she later plans to cover with artistic tattooing.
She still has to go to the doctor every week and have the fluid drained from her breasts.
She hopes to be able to have small implants next year if there is enough skin left.
Despite her horrific experience Lori said she would still tell women to have their breasts removed if they carry the BRCA genes, but warned them not to get implants at the same time.
At one point Lori was left with gaping holes in her chest
“I have five first cousins who have done it [had a mastectomy] and none of them have had this trouble,” she said.
“However none of them went with direct implants.
“I think I have been unlucky but I should have waited and let it heal and then gone back.
“My 20/20 hindsight says do not do the direct to implant.”
Angelina Jolie underwent a preventative breast removal in 2013 after she tested positive for the gene.
Sharon Osbourne, 65, also revealed she had had the surgery that year because she also has the faulty gene and couldn’t bear to fight cancer again after a colon cancer diagnosis in 2002.
There are around 18,000 preventative mastectomies performed in England each year, according to the NHS.
The procedure is carried out on healthy breast tissue to reduce the risk of cancer developing.
Prophylactic mastectomies can reduce the risk of breast cancer by up to 90 per cent in people at a high risk of developing the condition.