“The air-expansion process eliminates fear and anxiety for many patients,” says Dr. Atisha. “For some women, the process of weekly saline injections can feel tight and painful for 24-72 hours.
“But if the patient controls the process, it is less painful. The woman regulates how much air is used and on what days it is used. Patients can pump themselves up a little each day, or they can take a break for a day or two.
“This technology revolutionizes the expansion process,” says Dr. Atisha.
Currently, the plastic surgeons at Henry Ford are the only physicians in Michigan that offer air expanders to their patients.
“Dr. Atisha had built a great rapport and got to know me as a person,” says Jessica. “I would trust her with any decision about my breast reconstruction process.”
Before Jessica could complete her reconstructive process, however, she underwent chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Tissue expansion is typically done before radiation therapy. That’s because radiation can act like a sunburn and may cause skin to tighten.
The road to reconstruction
The process of gradually expanding the skin was a simple one:
- Near her chest, Jessica held up a wireless device that looked like a small remote control, and she pressed a button to activate the electronics in her temporary implant.
- Inside the implant, a reservoir contained compressed carbon dioxide. The air was gradually released in small amounts into her expander.
- The process could be repeated three times a day.
“It was cool that I could wave a medical wand over my breast and control the air flow as I expanded myself,” says Jessica. “It’s a little like blowing up a balloon. You can see the expansion and feel a little of the air pressure.”
She says that she was expanded in four weeks — faster than the average saline breast implant patient. One research study showed that saline expansions can take a median of 46 days.
Expansion varies depending on the size of the woman, the amount of air used each week, and the patient’s comfort level. “Everybody’s experience is different,” says Dr. Atisha.
Did the expansion process hurt?
Jessica laughed, “The only time it was painful was when the doctor expanded me the first time with 30 cc’s of air after surgery. I went from being big busted, to flat, and then to being expanded.” After the expansion process is complete, the average patient will continue to have the expander implants in place for five months. Patients who need chemotherapy and radiation will retain the implants for 9-12 months.