Here, Courtney O’Keefe, 28, from Canning Vale, WA tells the story in her own words.
￼Peering at my reflection in the mirror, I was miserable. I longed to be confident in my own skin. After losing our house to bushfires back in 2011, my family and I were put in a hotel for a year. But with no kitchen of our own, we often relied on meals from the local pub. Eventually, the fatty foods caused me to pile on weight.
So when we got our own place again, I overhauled my diet and stepped up my exercise routine, managing to shed a whopping 35 kilos. But as the weight started coming off, my breasts began to shrink. Though my body was now toned, my boobs were left saggy and flat. ‘They look like pancakes,’ I cried. Hiding myself in baggy shirts and jumpers, there was no chance of getting me in a bikini. I should be showing off the body I worked so hard to get, I thought. But instead, it left me feeling ashamed.
Fed up, I decided to look into getting a breast augmentation. Seeing a number of different clinics, I was advised I’d need to have my excess skin removed and then breast tissue lifted, before I could get implants. But the procedure was going to cost $25,000. There’s no way I can afford that, I thought. Then I was told about a cosmetic surgery holiday in Thailand where I could sit by the pool while I recovered.‘You’ll have the body of your dreams,’ the consultant promised.
It sounded like paradise better still, it would only cost me $7000. ‘Book me in,’ I beamed.
Three months later, I checked into my hotel with 10 other women who’d also signed up for the trip. Soon I’ll feel like a new woman, I smiled to myself as I was taken into surgery.
But when I woke up, I was screaming in agony. A nurse came to my aid and ushered me to the bathroom. As she grabbed me under the arm for support, I cried out in pain. That’s when I realised that the surgeon had made a cut from the middle of my chest all the way to my armpit.
‘It was only meant to be a small incision under my breast,’ I cried. ‘Why have I been sliced open?’
The communication barrier was difficult to overcome, but I soon learned that the surgeon had used bigger implants without my consent. I’d opted to go from a B to a D cup, but shockingly the implants inside me were almost double that size.
When my mum, Debra, 58, called later that night, I didn’t want to worry her. ‘Everything went really well,’ I told her.
But inside I was crumbling. It wasn’t until my dressings were changed the next day that I realised I’d been butchered.
My trip had turned into the holiday from hell. Discharged from hospital, over the next six days I was completely bedridden at the hotel and suffered severe hallucinations.
Back at the hospital to have my stitches removed, blood and pus oozed from my breasts. ‘That’s completely normal,’ the surgeon assured me as he wiped it away. But when I woke the following morning, my dressings were soaked in a foul-smelling liquid. I was forced to stuff my bra with sanitary pads during the flight home.
By the time we touched down in Perth, my skin was grey and my eyes yellow. ‘I’m taking you straight to hospital,’ Mum said firmly. There, I was rushed straight into ER. The next day, I began suffering seizures and my liver, kidneys, heart and brain were shutting down.
Though doctors remained baffled by my condition, they gave me antibiotics to ward off any infection. But my condition only worsened. ‘It might be time to gather the family to say your goodbyes,’ doctors told mum. It wasn’t until an infectious diseases specialist came to see me that my mystery illness was confirmed. ‘You’ve got a superbug called pseudomonas aeruginosa,’ she said, and it was attacking my organs.
For six long months I was in hospital and pumped with antibiotics. I begged doctors to remove the implants, but I was still too ill. Then in December 2015, the superbug came back with a vengeance and they had to take them out.
Sadly, my muscle and tissue had been damaged so badly I also required a partial mastectomy. I was left disfigured with deep scars. ‘The implants were just months away from rupturing,’ they said. I’d had two ticking time bombs in my chest.
Now, almost two years on, I still can’t bear to look in the mirror, though I’ve since found love with my partner, James, 35. Every day he tells me I look beautiful. And last December we welcomed a daughter, Harper. But due to complications from infections I’m no longer able to breastfeed and it breaks my heart.
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