BOSTON (CBS) – Just a few months ago, the idea of lacing up her sneakers and going out for a run was impossible for Meghan Sullivan. “It got to a point where I couldn’t get out of bed anymore. I was in that much pain,” she said.
The single mother from Hingham says she broke out into a terrible rash, her face was swollen, she had joint pain and barely had the energy to take care of her 7-year-old son. “It was hard. It was emotional. It was scary for me. I couldn’t live normally,” she said with tears welling up in her eyes.
Kaylee Silcox of Quincy was just 24 when she got sick. “I had joint pain all over, all the time. My hands and legs would start going numb,” she said. “I was being tested for MS.”
But it wasn’t Multiple Sclerosis and just like Meghan, Kaylee couldn’t get any answers from her doctors. She too started to cry when she described the frustration of not knowing what was wrong with her. “You feel so alone,” she said.
But that all changed when both women, who had saline breast implants, discovered a Facebook group with thousands of women all suffering from what they call Breast Implant Illness.
“I didn’t want to believe it was the Implants,” Meghan said. Both women say their surgeons didn’t want to believe it either, insisting something else was making them sick.
Desperate for help, Kaylee traveled to Ohio last October to have her implants removed by Dr. Lu-Jean Feng, a plastic surgeon who specializes in removing implants along with the capsule of tissue that forms around the device.
Dr. Feng says she’s removed implants of thousands of women, all who claim they made them ill. And she says it took her a long time to understand the nature of breast implant illness, but once she did, she stopped using the implants in her practice. “If you examine the pathology of the scare tissue, you see a lot of inflammatory reaction surrounding the implant derived material,” she said.
According to Feng, that inflammation and an immune response is what makes some women sick. “It is no different from when say someone has gluten sensitivity. They get rashes, joint pain, brain fog,” she said.
Dr. Abhishek Chatterjee specializes in breast reconstruction surgery at Tufts Medical Center. He says breast implants are very safe. “You are much more likely to get into a car accident than have a problem with an implant,” he said.
However, Dr. Chatterjee does not dismiss the idea that some people may have a rare reaction. “You can’t just ignore the complaints of a patient or their concerns,” he said.
The FDA regulates both saline and silicone implants and lists a number of other possible risks, including a rare form of lymphoma. The FDA website says there is no apparent association with connective tissue problems like Kaylee and Meghan had.
But the site does say: “In order to rule out these and other rare complications, studies would need to be much larger….”
Both Kaylee and Meghan are feeling much better since having their implants removed. They now just want other women to be aware of the issue.
“I personally would never want anyone to go through what I went through,” Meghan said. “It was absolutely devastating, not just to me but to my family.”
For those considering implants your best bet is to raise any concerns with your doctor.
Dr. Feng says there are studies being conducted to determine, scientifically, if Breast Implant Illness is real and should be considered a risk.