Here, Tabetha Whitby Kleeman, 41, tells the story in her own words.
Pulling up a seat on the verandah for a glass of wine, it was time to relax. But when I was just three sips in, there it was again. Ouch!
‘I’ve got that strange headache again,’ I said to my husband Justin, 42. The sharp pain seemed to come on every time I had an alcoholic drink and had been happening for over a year. ‘Maybe I’m allergic to alcohol, or it’s a brain tumour,’ I worried. Justin furrowed his brows, with a look of concern. ‘You should see the GP,’ he said, and I knew he was right. But due to fly to Bangkok that week, I decided to wait until I got home.
Excited about my trip, I was finally having breast surgery to replace the implants I got when I was 20. Back then, I was living in the fast lane as a model on the Gold Coast. Enjoying the beach lifestyle, I lived in a bikini and like many of my friends decided I wanted a fuller bust. The procedure to get breast implants was an easy day surgery. Proud of my new body I began entering bikini competitions. I won trips to Los Angeles, New Zealand, Singapore, Bali, Spain, Papua New Guinea and to all over Australia.I loved the modelling life, but naturally grew out of it. I married Justin – a former professional surfer – in 2011 and we had two beautiful children, TJ, 10, and Dash 9. Everything was perfect, but one thing bugged me. Even with our active lifestyle, my body had changed. Every time I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I had a niggling ache.
Saying goodbye to my modelling career was one thing. But my looks disappearing was much harder to take. And 20 years on from getting my implants, my breasts slowly sagged out of shape. ‘I love you just the way you are,’ Justin would quip every time I complained. But I didn’t feel right. As a busy mum and restaurant manager, I never put myself first and decided I was going to spoil myself. New breast implants and a lift was what I wanted.I found an Australian medical tour company offering the surgeries at a good rate. After a lot of research, I decided this was the best option for me. So, in November 2017, I took off to Thailand.At the airport, I held my children for a kiss goodbye. ‘See you in two weeks,’ I said, squeezing them tight.
Once at the hospital, in Thailand, I donned a medical gown and nurses rallied around prepping me for the four-hour surgery. Goodbye old boobs, I thought, feeling calm as I dozed off... But it was chaos when I woke up again. Slowly peeling my eyes open, I was overwhelmed with the sound of beeping machines and draining tubes. Looking at the clock, I realised I’d been in surgery for six hours – two hours longer than planned. Then I noticed two clear bags filled with what looked like breast implants. One of them was a sickly yellow colour. Something was very wrong, I realised. Still groggy, I drifted back to sleep. Waking the next day, my surgeon was at my bedside. ‘What happened?’ I asked. He delivered some shocking news to me.
‘We discovered one of your silicone implants had ruptured,’ he explained. ‘We’re not sure how long it had been leaking inside your body.’ Before inserting new implants, they’d had to do emergency surgery to scrape the toxic material from my chest. I was terrified. Prior to surgery I had no clue my implant was leaking.‘How could that be?’ I probed. He explained that a ‘capsule’ of tissue forms around implants after they are inserted. There are no symptoms of a rupture if silicone is trapped inside the capsule. Only an MRI or ultrasound can see a ‘silent rupture’. But sometimes even scans can miss tiny drops of silicone. That’s why it’s recommended that my older style of implants are replaced after 10 years. Ruptures can cause
toxic shock syndrome, which can be fatal. When the doctor left the room, I reached over to the bag of implants. The yellow, rotten implant felt like lumpy gel. I’m very lucky it hadn’t killed me.
I had 11 days to recover in hospital before checking out to a hotel. Anxious to see my body, I nervously unveiled the results in front of a mirror. Slowly unravelling the bandages, a long scar running the length of my ribcage, hidden under the breast, was revealed. But the implants were wonderful. Before leaving Bangkok, I treated myself to a cocktail at the hotel’s rooftop bar. Taking a sip of the drink, I waited a few minutes. Wow, no headache! I thought, relieved. Excited, I dialled Justin back at home. ‘Guess what, my headaches are gone!’ Although doctors can’t confirm if the headache was linked to the leaking implant, I haven’t had brain pain since it was removed.
My ordeal can act as a reminder for all women to stay vigilant. Keep a close watch on your breast health and don’t leave old implants in without getting them checked. Doctors warn that breast implants are not designed to last a lifetime. I’m just glad I found out before it was too late.
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