"Everyone knows how close Jane and I are," says Joan Liddell of Memphis, Tennessee. So close that these identical twins made medical history when Joan became the first woman to donate fat tissue for her sister's breast reconstruction. Neither Joan nor her twin, Jane Culbreath of Dubach, Louisiana, remembers who came up with the idea. "But when Jane's surgeon, Forrest P. Wall, M.D., didn't laugh at us, we knew we had a chance," says Joan. After a bout with breast cancer and two failed attempts at reconstruction using implants, Jane's options were limited. A lean 101 pounds, she lacked enough body fat for a common reconstruction procedure known as a TRAM flap, in which a surgeon uses muscle and fat from the patient's own stomach area to create a breast.
"After three pregnancies, I had enough stomach fat to share it with Jane," says Joan. So, with her sister as the donor, Jane underwent a less invasive version of the TRAM flap, a procedure called a DIEP flap. Robert J. Allen, M.D., chief of plastic surgery at Louisiana State University Hospital, developed the DIEP flap and, along with Dr. Wall, performed the sisters' surgeries. "With Joan, I excised only fat and skin, leaving her abdominal muscle intact," says Dr. Allen. "This means a shorter recuperation and less likelihood of the abdominal muscle weakness that accompanies the TRAM flap." The proof? The twins were up and about the day after surgery.
Family Circle Volume 113, Number 12, August 1, 2000