FOUNTAIN VALLEY — After losing 390 pounds on a medically supervised diet, a Santa Ana woman underwent tummy tuck surgery Wednesday and shed an additional 22 pounds of skin that have been donated to research.
Medical experts said Diana Rosenfeld's donated tissue will contribute to national studies on skin diseases. Such donations are rare because few patients undergoing skin reduction surgeries know that their excess skin could be used for research.
"There's a shortage of skin for research because fresh skin is a commodity and . . . every little donation will help research," said Bruce Achauer, a plastic surgeon and director of the UCI Medical Center burn unit. "Except for cadaver donators, a lot of people don't think about donating their tissue following a surgery."
Part of Rosenfeld's skin probably will be sent to UCI Medical Center for its research on psoriasis, a chronic skin disease characterized by scaly, reddish patches.
The remainder will go to the University of Texas in Austin, where researchers are studying cell regeneration in the skin, said Edwin Marshall, acting director of the UCI burn center's organ and tissue bank.
"What Mrs. Rosenfeld is doing right now is she'll be helping a lot of people because researchers need skin that has not been frozen," said Marshall. At UCI Medical Center, "she might help complete the study, which might end up finding a cure for psoriasis."
Before her surgery at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital on Wednesday, Rosenfeld said she was excited about her "latest step in my transformation."
"I was excited to learn that the excess skin taken from my surgery could be donated and made available for research," said Rosenfeld, 43. The surgery and her stay at the hospital were provided free.
"In light of everyone else's generosity, I'm delighted that I could give something back," she added.
For the last two years, Rosenfeld has been in a weight control program at the Lindora Medical Clinic in Costa Mesa. The 5-foot-6-inch woman has shed 390 pounds from her original 631-pound frame.
Not counting the removal of the 22 pounds Wednesday, Rosenfeld said she still has about 40 to 50 pounds she would like to shuck.
Because Rosenfeld lost so much weight, the tummy tuck was needed to rid the heavy, sagging abdominal skin. Lindora contacted the burn center to see if Rosenfeld's excess skin could be used for skin grafting for burn victims.
Skin from the abdomen is not normally used for grafting, but it could be used in research, burn unit officials said.
"Most of the time, the burn center gets skin from cadaver owners--those who have died," said Marshall. "The area we normally take skin from for grafting is the back or the back and front of legs. That kind of skin is the most taut and easy to remove."
"Mrs. Rosenfeld's skin, because it's excess abdominal skin from surgery, it's sort of lumpy and not taut at all," he continued. "With her skin, we wouldn't be able to use the instrument . . . used to cut and take out thin layers of skin for grafting. We would end up shredding the skin and might lose it period."
But for research, "fresh skin" donated from a live donor is invaluable, doctors said Wednesday.
"Fresh skin is perfect for research and not quite ideal for burn patients," said Achauer. "Fresh skin--unlike cadaver's skin that is frozen--is much healthier. You can use fresh skin to grow new skin for more research."