• BREAKING NEWS ABC shows live and on-demand -- Download the WATCH ABC app!

Device eases fat-grafting for breast-cancer mastectomies

December 7, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Thinning hair, loss of eyelashes, no breasts: It's a reality many breast cancer patients face after chemotherapy and a mastectomy. But with fat-grafting, patients can get their breasts back using their own stem cells. A device takes the procedure to a whole new level.

Michelle Hartog is going under the needle to get back what she lost to her breast cancer.

"You look at yourself and go, who is that? Who is that person in the mirror? Because you're losing your hair, you have no eyelashes, you have no eyebrows, you have no breasts. You feel a little bit like a monster," said Hartog.

Hartog wanted her breasts back, but didn't want implants or prosthetics. So she turned to her husband, plastic surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Hartog. Together they opted for something a little more natural: fat-grafting.

"How many women say, 'Well, I want to take it from here and go to here?' Well that's what I'm doing," said Hartog.

After having her second mastectomy, Hartog underwent liposuction. Some fat was immediately injected into her breast. The rest was banked for later.

After a month, she was introduced to the Brava.

"It's much like the breast pump when you're pumping for milk for a baby," said Hartog.

She began wearing the domes 10 hours a day. They're attached to a pump that employs air suction to stretch tissues and increase blood flow.

This new technique creates space for the added fat, resulting in less fat loss. It cuts the number of fat-transfer procedures in half, saving time and money. When she's ready, the fat is removed, thawed and injected.

In the past up to half of the fat injected would be reabsorbed by the body. But with the Brava, up to 90 percent will remain where it's placed.

Four days later, Hartog is back to looking and feeling a little more like herself.

The fat-grafting procedure is done as outpatient, often under local anesthesia.

Even though the results aren't as immediate as implants, it involves no incisions or new scars and recreates a natural-feeling breast.