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Plastic Surge

HAS THE SEPT. 11 tragedy affected people’s self image and finances?

Just like workers in nearly every other industry in Hawaii, most of the state’s cosmetic surgeons saw a significant drop in business after the Sept. 11 attacks. However, unlike other sectors, the cosmetic industry managed to make a rather quick recovery in the state’s economic downturn.

“A tragedy such as the one we experienced … really threatens one’s financial and personal sense of security,” says F. Don Parsa, chief of plastic surgery at The Queen’s Medical Center, of the immediate decline in appointments after the attacks. “Undergoing cosmetic surgery under the circumstances is considered really a moot point, really a sign of vanity when one is dealing with a tragedy of such incredible dimension.”

UPLIFTING MEDICINE: Randy Wong, chief of plastic surgery at Straub Clinic and Hospitals, examines an unidentified patient. Assisting him is Tessie Ulep, nurse.

Randy Wong, chief of plastic surgery at Straub Clinic and Hospital, says some patients who had scheduled procedures before Sept. 11 canceled them after the attacks.

“It hit home that we’re having a rough economy, and people had to reset their priorities,” says Wong, who is also president of the Hawaii Plastic Surgery Society.

But within about six weeks after the attacks, Parsa says he saw patient appointments increase to near-normal levels for that time of year. He predicts the “post-tragedy rebound” effect will even boost numbers above pre-Sept. 11 expectations.

“Once the initial shock has softened and has subsided … any personal tragedy begins to decrease in intensity,” he says. “Now they’re telling themselves, ‘If I look better, that means I’m no longer stricken by this tragedy. … I want to look better, because I have hope in a happier and better me and, by extension, a better nation.”

Prior to the attacks, the nation’s cosmetic surgeons reported steady increases in the number of procedures they performed, with that number nearly tripling between 1992 and 2000, says the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. About 7.4 million people underwent some type of plastic surgery in 2000.

No organization in Hawaii keeps track of the number of local procedures. Wong estimates, however, that each of the 25 HPSS members who actively practice performs about 500 procedures annually. These numbers do not include the numerous practitioners who are not board-certified or board-eligible.

“It’s almost impossible to know the depth of the number of procedures that are being done in this town,” he says.

In the past two years, Straub has invested about $30,000 for television airtime to run commercials advertising its plastic surgery services, says marketing and communications administrator Jim Rudosky. Although many patients have called as a result, Rudosky says plastic surgery is usually not an impulse decision.

“If you’re considering plastic surgery, you’ll talk to friends,” Rudosky says. “You’ll want to eventually talk to a physician to find out what their approach will be, what their credentials are, what their experience has been.”

As the state copes with possibly its most daunting fiscal situation yet, economic factors play a major role in patients’ decisions to undergo plastic surgery, Wong says.

Parsa says the prices for these procedures can vary, depending on their type and extent. Eyelid surgery, the most commonly performed procedure in Hawaii, can run between $1,500 or $3,000, when taking into account fees for the surgeon, operating room and anesthesiologist as well as post-operation medications. Breast augmentation can cost between $5,000 and $6,000.

Physicians at both Queen’s and Straub also perform nonsurgical cosmetic procedures, including Botox and Collagen injections, microdermabrasion and spider- vein removal.

Even these tough economic times won’t prevent some people from paying for these types of procedures, which Parsa says can range from $150 to $370 per session, with all fees included.

“It’s a reflection of people’s hope for themselves as well as other people; I consider it a very positive sign,” Parsa says. “And we know, as plastic surgeons, that better looks foster better feelings.”

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(Based on procedures performed last year by Dr. Randy Wong, chief of plastic surgery at Straub Clinic & Hospital)

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