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Prepping for Plastic Surgery

THE SAFETY ZONE | JERRY HICKS

July 12, 1999|JERRY HICKS

I've always thought of plastic surgery as a nip here and a tuck there, touch-ups for those who need a boost in self-esteem. What a shocker recently to follow the Discovery Channel's cameras in the operating room during a face-lift, in which a woman's face was lifted right off her body.

Plastic surgery is serious--and delicate--business.

But if going under the knife to rearrange nature is the only thing that can make you happy, here's a stern warning: Look long and hard before you choose a cosmetic or plastic surgeon.

That advice comes from the California Society of Plastic Surgeons.

"Plastic surgery is one of the few fee-generated procedures left in medicine, and everyone seems to want a piece of the pie," said Christine Pahl McCartney, CSPS executive director. "Make sure the doctor you choose didn't get his certification on a weekend retreat in the Bahamas."

Her group suggests that before you agree to any body altering, you carefully question the surgeon. I'm afraid I'd be too intim-

idated to ask all that she suggests. But McCartney insists that not only should you, but many do.

She recommends asking the doctor:

* How much experience do you have in this field?

* How many times have you performed the procedure, and how recently?

* May I speak to former patients?

* Where will you perform the surgery? Most plastic surgeons use out-patient facilities. But McCartney says find out if your doctor at least has approved privileges to operate at a local hospital. If not, that's a tip-off that you may not be in the most capable hands.

If, after such questioning, you have doubts, McCartney warns not to proceed without getting a second opinion from another doctor.

But let's say you do feel comfortable with the doctor you've chosen. You still need to take one more important step, the experts agree:

Call the Medical Board of California to find out your doctor's background.

You can learn more than just whether he or she is licensed. You can find out where the doctor's degree came from, when it was issued, whether the doctor has a disciplinary record or if the doctor has lost any civil malpractice judgments.

You can reach the Medical Board by phone at (916) 263-2382 or on the Internet at http://www.mdbd.ca.gov.

Here's one other recommended inquiry: Check with the American Board of Medical Specialties at (847) 491-9091 or http://www

.certifieddoctor.org. This board can tell you whether a doctor is certified in any specialties, such as liposuction.

Maybe you're like me: You'd never consider plastic or cosmetic surgery. But others find it appealing, and in big numbers.

The Plastic Surgery Information Service in Arlington Heights, Ill., says that cosmetic surgery procedures in this country topped 1 million last year for the first time--a 50% increase over the last two years.

But McCartney offers one more essential piece of advice: "We get complaints from lots of people unhappy with their results. You have to be realistic about your plastic surgery. Not everybody is going to come out looking like Cheryl Tiegs."

Call the CSPS toll free at (800) 722-2777 to learn more.

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Readers may reach Jerry Hicks by calling (714) 564-1049 or e-mail to jerry.hicks@latimes.com

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