What Happens When Your Body Rejects Breast Implants

June 30th 2016

Almie Rose

An estimated 4 percent of women in America, or one in every 26, has breast implants, according to a 2014 piece from FiveThirtyEight. But what happens when a woman discovers that her body is rejecting the implants?

It's rare, but it happens. Actress Stephanie March, 41, best known for her role as Alex Cabot, the assistant district attorney on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," was one of those women. She wrote an essay this week for Refinery 29 about her experience getting breast implants and then getting them removed — more than once.

"My decision to have a breast augmentation in 2014 was the wrong decision, for so many reasons."

March wrote:

"I was 39 years old, and my life was disintegrating. Couldn’t get a job I wanted on camera, couldn’t get attention for my production projects, couldn’t travel the world far enough or fast enough or immerse myself in philanthropy enough to make it all go away. It was like watching a glacier cleave into giant chunks: massive and seemingly well beyond my control. See, the other thing that was happening was that my marriage of nearly 10 years (and 14 together) was falling apart. And nothing, nothing was helping me cope.

"[...] And what I did next was exactly what you are not supposed to do when it comes to plastic surgery. I decided to change my body because I couldn’t change my life."

March isn't alone. Getting breast implants was the most popular cosmetic surgery for women in 2014. It was also the top procedure in 2013. And the largest age group of women who got implants? Ages 30 to 39 years old. March was definitely not alone.

"In retrospect, there were signals that this might not be the right path for me."

Though she started to have doubts about getting the surgery, March pushed them aside. Initially, everything was going fine.

"[...] until one morning in early October when I sat up in bed and felt a sickening wet mucus sliding down my chest. It was everywhere, soaking my shirt and the sheets. My right implant was infected and the seams of the scar on my right breast had burst. I raced to my surgeon’s office. He shot me full of anesthesia, deftly removed the entire implant, cleaned and packed the wound, and immediately sent me to an infectious disease doctor.

"I had a hole in my breast for 6 weeks while I blasted my body with antibiotics. I had the implant put back in. I had another infection and rupture on Christmas Eve. I had it taken out again. I had more cultures and tests and conversations with doctors than I care to recall."

The FDA reports that complications occur in patients about 1 percent of the time. These complications range from pain to deflation to toxic shock syndrome to necrosis (described by the FDA as "dead skin or tissue around the breast"). These are side effects that aren't discussed. Furthermore, most people are unaware that breast implants are not necessarily permanent. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons notes:

"It’s important to know that breast implants are not designed to last a lifetime. Your implants may need to be replaced. You should plan for an annual examination by your plastic surgeon to evaluate your breast health and implant integrity. Over time, your breasts can change due to aging, weight fluctuations, hormonal factors and gravity."

"I am allergic to implants."

There was only one conclusion to be reached after March's ordeal.

"The problem wasn’t something anyone could have prevented or predicted — it was that I am allergic to implants. Plain and simple. My body did. Not. Want. Them. I kept trying to 'fix' my body, and it kept telling me to leave it alone.

"[...] In April, after so much back and forth and so many pieces of gauze and soft bras and waiting to operate until the infections cleared up and not being able to use my arms properly, my surgeon looked at me and gently said, 'I want you to have what you want. I want you to be happy. But the universe is talking to you. I think you should listen.'"

That's when March decided to have the implants taken out for the last time.

March's story is important.

This is not about shaming women who choose to undergo breast implant procedures, or any type of plastic surgery. Women should make whatever choices they're comfortable with. For March, it's a reminder that she has control.

"I have accepted this episode as a part of my larger story," she writes. "And I refuse to be ashamed of it. I am taking back my body, my story, and myself in a bathing suit."

[H/T Refinery 29]