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New, Lifelike Breast Prosthesis Makes Lives Whole AgainEXP--GiftofLove

June 16, 2002|STEVE BAILEY | ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

GEORGETOWN, Ky. — Terry Ferguson often wept as he watched his wife cope with the loss of a breast to cancer.

Frances Ferguson put on a brave face, as he knew she would, but inside she was changing. She was not the same happy-go-lucky woman he knew and loved before her left breast was removed to save her life in October 2000.

Little things seemed to upset her the most, like finding clothes that would look right on her imbalanced chest when she wanted to work out or dress up for a night on the town.

His weathered face still reddens when he recalls the anger and disgust that swept over him as he walked into a prosthetic shop with her in an attempt to restore some of her pride.

"It was appalling, really," said Ferguson, a Georgetown orthodontist. "The prosthetics were like cold sacks of silicone that you just plop into a hole. They were about the most depressing things you'd ever see.

"That very moment, I decided I was going to go home and reinvent the wheel."

Six months later, Terry Ferguson wept again. This time, however, the tears were prompted by joy as he saw his wife's vitality return in an instant after presenting her with a new, custom-fit prosthetic breast.

"Life changed for me from the minute I put it on," said Frances Ferguson, 48. "I cried as I stood there and looked at myself in the mirror.

"It looked so real that I called my daughter to come down and see it. I was wearing a sheer bra, and when she first came into the room she couldn't tell which was which from about 10 feet away. Then we both stood there crying together."

*

Terry Ferguson's gift of love--now called the Radiant Image custom breast prosthesis--gave renewed hope and vigor to a woman he'd adored for nearly 20 years.

Soon, his wife was insisting that he share the gift with the other 1.4 million American women who wear breast forms.

"I never even thought about marketing it," he said. "All I wanted to do was create something that would bring my wife back to me and give her the confidence to start living her life again.

"But it wasn't more than a few days before she told me that I had the ability to change the lives of women who had been feeling like she had and make them feel whole again."

The custom prosthesis is an idea that is long overdue, said Dr. Patrick McGrath, director of the University of Kentucky's Comprehensive Breast Care Center.

"It's sort of been a neglected area for years," said McGrath, who saw the prosthesis during a presentation on the product. "It's dramatically different. The concept is so simple and makes so much sense."

The prosthesis is custom built--molded from an impression of a remaining breast if there is one--and fit to each woman's particular specifications, including size, shape and color of the remaining breast.

It is made of a unique patent-pending silicone foam core which Ferguson perfected after many years spent creating retainers and other oral appliances for his patients. It is light and cool, yet waterproof and can be worn while exercising, swimming or sitting in a hot tub.

"The hardest part was developing a core material that would literally simulate breast tissue weight-wise," he said. "Once I was able to do that, the aesthetic part really just fell into place."

It can be held firm against the chest with or without adhesive and worn with or without a bra. Frances Ferguson has worn it with everything from a bathing suit to a formal, strapless dress.

"There's really no situation where I'm not comfortable wearing it," she said.

The prosthesis is available only through VDK Turning Point in Lexington but soon will be available in prosthetics shops in Kentucky and Tennessee and, eventually, nationwide.

"We've had about 30 women wear the prosthesis and have gotten hundreds of calls through word of mouth alone," said Lois Ferguson, chief marketing officer for Radiant Image.

"A typical breast prosthesis costs between $350 and $500, while the other custom prosthesis on the market runs about $3,800," she said. "This one costs between $950 and $1,100, depending on the size."

Elaine Greer says that's a small price to pay for the way it makes cancer survivors feel. As director of chaplains at Lexington's Central Baptist Hospital, Greer counsels women struggling with the effects of breast cancer.

She's also a four-year cancer survivor who lost both her breasts to mastectomy in 1997.

"I've always been an extremely confident and positive person, so wearing the heavy old prosthesis was no big deal to me," said Greer, who met the Fergusons while Frances was undergoing her surgery. "I was just so happy to be alive."

Terry Ferguson asked if she would allow him to make her a pair to wear for several days and then let him know what, if any, changes the design needed.

"Quite honestly, I thought to myself, 'Is this guy crazy?' But I figured I owed it to my patients to find out about any kind of new product they might be interested in," she said.

"When I saw them for the first time, I was absolutely speechless. You just can't believe what you are seeing. And then seeing them on my body ... it's a joy you just can't explain."

Greer said the prosthesis allows a woman to feel normal again.

"It sounds funny to say this out loud, but I never dreamed I'd ever have a nipple again," she said with a laugh. "I mean, your arm brushes up against your chest and there it is--like it was never gone.

"I never thought I'd ever feel comfortable going into Victoria's Secret or Dillards again to look for and try on bras. After a mastectomy, you feel like a patient, not a woman. Now, bra shopping is something I look forward to more than just about anything."

That, Terry Ferguson says, makes him feel almost as proud as seeing his wife thrive as she did before the cancer changed both of their lives.

"I just knew in my heart there had to be something better out there for Frances," he said.

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