Open Letter to Dr. Joel Feldman
October 18, 2007
Dear Dr. Feldman:
Today is my birthday. I am 58 years old. Ten years ago I decided to give myself the ultimate birthday gift... a facelift. On October 16, 1997, I entered the Plastic Surgery Residents'. Clinic at MGH at a point in my life where I had everything I ever wanted, secure in a job I loved so much it fulfilled me in every way. I was in perfect health, enjoyed the love of friends and family. I had reached a degree of self fulfillment, stability and happiness I always hoped for. My life was rich, not in money or material things, but in ways money cannot buy... through my love and appreciation for nature and my creative ability to enhance that beauty with my work as a professional gardener.
I was blessed at birth with a pretty face. Like most women, I enjoyed enhancing my appearance with cosmetics, keeping my body fit and healthy, adorning myself with clothes of my own design.
At 48, I succumbed to the allure of a facelift. As a well informed patient, my expectations were reasonable, and I cut doctors more slack than most, having lived and worked with an MD for 12 years. I trusted doctors, as those I knew personally never displayed a hint duplicity in their communication with patients. Perhaps that was due to their being of a generation considered "old school", since my doctor-companion was 40 years my senior.
I am forced to live with a piece of wood pressed hard against my neck 24 hours a day in order to breathe. Things that require the use of two hands must be done in fits and starts, like a swimmer coming up for air. So I will not revisit details about my surgeries I have repeated ad nauseum over the past 10 years. The facts are right here on this website, albeit is a disorderly fashion.
The message I wish to convey to you today... my birthday, is this: Your decision, in conjunction with Dr. James May, Director of the Residents' Clinic, to allow my rhinoplasty 8 weeks after my facelift and lower blepharoplasty was imprudent and irresponsible. Your decision resulted in permanent tissue damage to all undermined areas of my face and neck... The massive swelling immediately after my rhinoplasty damaged the newly forming adhesion between the tissue planes. My face and neck was one massive seroma; resulting in what you call a "soggy" platysma.
You refused to see me as a private patient when I offered to pay your full fee. You agreed to see me 8 months after the injurious rhinoplasty and claimed your "examination" revealed no "abnormality". While I begged and pleaded for MGH to perform simple dermatological studies on the effected tissue, even if nothing could be done surgically to improve the appearance of the sagging face I did not have before my facelift, you and MGH ignored me. You and MGH forced me to waste months of my life behind a keyboard, writing letters, literally begging and groveling for you to recognize "complications" you mention in your book "Neck Lift". I am too exhausted to enumerate them here, when they are outlined in other areas of this website.
Dr. Feldman, it was your responsibility to perform my revision surgery, according to the consent I signed at MGH. Please remember that I based my decision to undergo rhinoplasty only 8 weeks after my facelift because I believed it must be safe if approved by a surgeon with your illustrious reputation.
You forced me to seek a revision elsewhere and that surgery left me unable to lift my head, close my jaw, breathe or swallow normally since the day of the operation. The damaged platysma, thinned and stretched to the limit of its biomechanical extendability, was surgically manipulated in a manner that is literally killing me. Dr. Eppley's surgically created fixed contracture of a muscle sheath devoid of any ability to stretch, has transferred the inappropriate vectors of tension to adjacent tissue. Over six physically torturous years, it has gradually and continually displaced the internal anatomy of the throat, causing the positional airway obstruction diagnosed by a pulmonologist in 2004.
The surgeon in Hyannis who removed my sutures after Dr. Eppley's revision facelift said he would consider releasing the platysma muscle "if I twisted his arm". That was in July 2001 when I saw him for injection of a trigger thumb. His notes do not mention our discussion about my inability to lift my head or close my jaw, though on that day, he drew a diagram of the transverse incision he always uses in face/neck lifts, which Dr. Eppley omitted, in spite of his agreement to to do so.
I know my own anatomy and the limitations the damaged tissue would impose upon revision. I was certain my revision would require, without exception, a release of that muscle one way or another. My present state proves I was correct. Dr. Eppley informed me that I would have a visible ridge across my neck, which I totally accepted, because I was well aware that surgery always has an element of sacrificing one imperfection for the sake of another.
You tried to have my accurate photos removed from the Internet with your lawsuit in Sept 2002. In October 2002, I called the doctor who originally removed my sutures intending to "twist his arm" to perform the platysma release. His secretary phoned me to say the doctor suggests I return to Dr. Eppley... in Indiana.. when I had not been able to drive to Boston by myself because I could not lift my head to see the road and breathe at the same time. I believe your lawsuit influenced his decision, as I know it has that of other surgeons from whom I sought help... not for aesthetic reasons, but to literally save my life.
I am dying, Dr. Feldman, from an operation I would never have sought elsewhere if you had addressed my legitimate problem in a timely manner. You told writer Rich Bergeron that you did not operate on me because you thought you could not make me "happy"... Happy? I am trying to save my life! You are responsible for my ending up in the hands of another surgeon...one who led me to believe he understood the limitations of the compromised tissue you caused with your irresponsible decision to do my rhinoplasty before my facelift was sufficiently healed. You are as responsible as Dr. Eppley for my present condition.. a condition which is life threatening, and with which I will not be able to survive much longer.
You told writer Rich Bergeron that I did not have swallowing difficulty after my rhinoplasty. Strictly speaking, I was able to swallow.. I did not have dysphagia.. Yet I have a tape recording of my conversation with Dr. May in which I am telling him the sagging tissue of my neck made chewing and swallowing feel like hard work, that I had pain directly in the area of the platysma plication when I swallowed. In this taped conversation I reminded him that the consent form stated that if a revision was necessary, the surgeon's fee would be waived. I told him that it was obvious to me that the platysma plication tore through or separated after the rhinoplasty swelling, which my documented photographs clearly prove.
Your duplicity in trying to make a judge believe it humanly possible to deliberately contort one's face to cause the appearance of sagging depicted in my photos, which I did not have before the facelift, is evidence of the double standard you engage for your private patients as opposed to "clinic" patients. You prove this aspect of your character in your own book. I am certain you didn't accuse the patient with the "crinkly skin" that did not "stick down" of deliberately contorting her face and neck to make it "appear" that way as you did to me. In fact, anyone, regardless of age or skin tone, would find it quite IMPOSSIBLE to deliberately contort their face to create the sagging in my photos.
You said I had BDD, a presumptuous falsehood. I have always been far less demanding than the average patient, willing to accept the imperfections that are bound to occur. Your lawyers chewed me up and spit me out for telling the truth on the Internet, which you forced me to do because you chose to deny the obvious. I have been exploited by filmmakers, demeaned by your unscrupulous attorneys and libeled in a medical journal. You have ignored the reality of the destruction of a life which your decisions facilitated.
I am still alive, but just barely hanging on. Rich Bergeron contacted me one year ago wanting to write about my experience after seeing the HBO documentary in which I appeared, because the film made him feel as if something was "missing" from my story as it was portrayed. His intuition was accurate. He is, or more accurately, was optimistic that in interviewing the doctors involved in my surgeries, he would initiate a "happy ending" to my story. At that point, he was not able to accept that I would be left to die a slow death, suffering increasing disability until I am no longer able to survive on my own. Having accompanied me on my last appointment with an ENT specialist, he now believes differently...
I need to tell you, while I am still able, that your decisions regarding my case were fatally flawed. I have been robbed of 10 years of peace of mind, and subjected to 6 /12 years of continual physical torture. You could have prevented this, but you did not. You accused me of heinous lies and morphing photographs when you had a direct hand in causing the damage depicted in those accurate photos. I have forgotten the kind and caring person I used to be. You betrayed my trust and Dr. Eppley completed the job. I hope you are never allowed to forget me when I am gone. I know Rich Bergeron will never forget what he has witnessed of my life this past year, and I know he will set the record straight regarding my experience, even if it does not have the happy conclusion he wanted. You told Rich that you thought of contacting me... but you did not. Why not? Did you not realize that all I wanted was to be treated like a human being?
I TRUSTED you. I never wanted to point the finger of blame at any doctor, but neither could I allow an opportunity for doctors to learn from my suffering to be thrown by the wayside because doctors cannot admit they are only human and make mistakes. You misjudged me because you never allowed yourself to see me as a human being, rather than a surgical case at the Resident's Clinic. You have no idea whom you helped to destroy. That sensitive, kind person died.. killed by the arrogance of a profession impressed by its own narcissistic power.
I am trying to save my life. I have begged and groveled for doctors' help for years when you and MGH deliberately denied the reality of the tissue damage you caused. Your lawsuit which attempted to force removal of my photos from the Internet served to BLACKLIST me from receiving the medical attention I now require to SAVE MY LIFE. You are capable of saving my life.
If you and Dr. Eppley remain silent and do nothing to help me, I want people to know of your refusal to accept responsibility for your actions and your disregard for my appeal to help save my life before it is too late...
Shalom, Dr. Feldman...