Nicola used to have breast implants, and after having them removed last year, says her mind is clearer, and her body healthier.
“Every day is a new beginning for me,” Nicola explains to Sunday Night’s Alex Cullen. “I didn’t actually like them, I didn’t like how they felt, I didn’t like how they looked, they just weren’t me. I knew 100 per cent that they were making me sick and essentially ageing me, so it just made perfect sense to me that they had to go.”
Nicola was suffering from something that still isn’t officially recognised by most in the medical fraternity as a genuine condition – breast implant illness.
“The implants themselves weren’t ruptured at all, but my surgeon agreed to get the scar tissue that he removed that was around them tested for silicone,” Nicola told us. “Sure enough, it was riddled with it, which proved that even though the implants hadn’t ruptured at all, the silicone was still leeching into my body.”
Now, Nicola has a new lease on life. “Every day is a new beginning for me. I feel like I blossom anew with every sunrise. It’s a lot more fun to ride the horses, to surf, to just do everything. I have a whole new sense of freedom.”
Nicola isn’t alone. With nearly 30,000 women getting implants in Australia each year, women across the country are suffering serious health problems ranging from chronic fatigue syndrome to cancer all because of, they say, their breast implants.
For 47-year-old grandmother and Instagram star Gina Stewart, her implants were an extreme physical change. “I believe I was a cup B and I went to a double E,” she reveals. I actually wanted to get my money’s worth to be honest.”
Her quest for perfection has attracted plenty of attention online. “I’ve only been on social media five months and I’m nearly up to 75,000 followers,” Gina says. “I don’t even know how that happened, but I think that maybe my breasts had a bit to do with it.”
Gina’s implant illness journey is just beginning. “I’m very fatigued, I get anxiety, I get sick a lot, I get the flu, coughs and colds, just feel lethargic all the time,” she tells us. “Just generally not well every day.”
Gina also suffers from panic attacks and depression. “The past year I’ve probably left the house about maybe 20 times. This is why I’ve turned to social media to try and do something from home, because I can’t work anymore.”
Like Gina, 37-year-old mother of two Mel Ward also believes that her breast implants are making her sick. The former personal trainer has had silicone breast implants for the last 11 years. Now, she can barely make it through the day.
“I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, I’ve had two bouts of pneumonia, I’ve had bladder infections, chronic infections in my sinuses, my chest and in my throat, major hormone imbalance, I was diagnosed with depression anxiety, I’ve got inflammation in my uterus – and that’s just a few.”
For Mel, the decision to remove her implants was an easy one – two and a half months ago, she discovered that her left implant had ruptured. What’s most concerning is that there’s no knowing when the rupture occurred.
Mel had her first child Rylee in 2005, and then at the age of 26 decided she wanted to do what a lot of her friends were doing.
“I felt very insecure with my appearance at that age. I never had breasts growing up
and I found myself in situations where I was comparing myself to other women. I thought that that was the one thing that I could alter that would make me feel like I had a feeling of self-worth.”
But to Mel’s surprise, the implants didn’t make her happy. “No,” she laughs. “Which was a huge shock.”
On the day scheduled for the removal of Mel’s implants, it’s a very emotional time. “[I’m] a little bit nervous, just looking forward to it being over,” she reveals.
Cosmetic surgeon Dr Merkazami starts with Mel’s intact right implant, and it’s carefully and painstakingly removed. While the ruptured left implant is a much bigger challenge, the operation is successful, and Mel’s implants are safely removed.
One month after the operation, and Mel feels like a different person.
“It’s been really good. I feel the healthiest I’ve felt in 10 years. It’s like day and night – I’ve got a newfound amount of energy, I’m not fatigued any more, I’m not in pain any more, it’s quite crazy actually how quickly it has turned around. So there’s no regrets at all.”
Macquarie University Hospital’s Integrated Breast Health Clinic is the only one in Australia – and the world – dedicated to breast implant checks. Located in Sydney, discussions are also underway to expand to other major cities before the end of the year. A routine breast implant check incurs a $110 fee, of which $61 can be claimed back from Medicare, meaning any out-of-pocket cost is less than $50. For more details, visit www.muh.org.au/breastimplantcheck.
For more information on women who are experiencing breast implant illness, visit www.healingbreastimplantillness.com.
Reporter: Alex Cullen
Producer: Lisa Ryan