What started as a joke between identical twin sisters turned into a marvel of modem medicine when one woman donated a new breast to her twin and got a tummy tuck in the bargain.
After having a mastectomy in 1988, 46-year-old cancer victim Jane Culbreath, of Duback, La., tried breast implants twice. But infection set in that her radiation-damaged skin was too weak to fight.
An alternative was to remove skin from her stomach and form a new breast, but that posed a problem, too.
"We couldn't take the tissue from Jane's midsection because she was just too thin," explains Dr. Bob Allen, of the Louisiana State University Health Science Center. "And any transplants from another person would likely result in rejection."
Unless, of course, that other person was an identical twin, whose genetic makeup is a perfect match, reducing the risk of rejection to nearly zero.
"We started with a light approach to this," says Jan's twin sister Joan Liddell, of Memphis, Tenn. "I told her 'Hey, I've got five extra pounds I could lose.'"
"We were just joking around, but I'd had three pregnancies and an expanded abdomen, so why not try it?"
In surgery performed at Memorial Medical Hospital in New Orleans, Allen took the soft tissue and skin from Joan's abdomen and formed it into a breast for Jane.
"After forming the breast, a sensory nerve was connected to restore stimulation," he says.
And since then, he's assured the sisters that they've passed the stage where rejection would set in.
"It's great!" Jane says. "I got my breast back and in another six months, I'll be back to have a nipple added on.
"We had no problems. It was a perfect situation."
And for Joan, there was an added perk.
"She got a new breast and I got a tummy tuck!" she says. "There was never an issue of not doing it.
"It was an emotionally and physically tough ordeal, but with caring and love we were able to bring it to a close."
National Examiner pg. 29, March 28, 2000