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What comes to mind when you hear the words tummy tuck?

Is it a mother restoring her body after the stresses of pregnancy and childbirth? Is it a person getting rid of excess skin after losing a significant amount of weight? Is it someone who wants to look and feel better in a swimsuit?

Thanks to its incredible ability to recontour the body, most people see a tummy tuck as a cosmetic procedure — but for patients like Judy, a tummy tuck is so much more.

After a severe car accident and a spinal surgery left her with separated abdominal muscles and debilitating pain, Judy sought help at Plastic Surgery Austin. Dr. Sharma performed an abdominal repair that returned function and form to Judy’s midsection, and restored the active life of yoga, gardening and playing with her grandchildren she cherished before the accident.

IT WAS A MIRACLE WE MADE IT OUT ALIVE

Judy’s life changed on February 1, 2020. While she and her husband were driving home from Lake Whitney, a vehicle ran a stop sign and sped onto the highway. The vehicle t-boned Judy’s Honda CR-V, then hit a truck that flipped upside down and landed on the back of Judy’s car.

“Our CR-V was crushed in the front and back,” Judy says. “I was knocked unconscious and woke up to my husband shaking me and telling me that we had to get out of the vehicle quickly, as it was filling up with smoke. He tried to open his door, but it was crushed in. I tried my side, and it didn’t work either. Somehow, I managed to climb in the back seat and try to open the back doors – no luck. I remember asking my husband, ‘What are we going to do, Drew?’ He responded, ‘I don’t know, Judy.’”

Luckily, two young women returning from a funeral discovered the wreck and stopped to assist. They pried a window open and helped Judy and Drew escape the mangled SUV.

“The next thing I knew, there were sirens all over the place,” Judy remembers. “A CareFlight helicopter flew in and prepared me for takeoff to a hospital in Waco. My husband was left there without a vehicle to finish up details at the wreck site.”

After numerous scans and examinations, Judy was cleared to leave the hospital that night. She walked out of the building feeling battered but grateful to have survived, with no idea that a lengthy healing journey lay ahead.

“It was a miracle that we made it out alive. Everyone involved in the wreck made it, too,” she says. “I felt all beat up and kind of out of it. I knew it was going to be a few days of soreness, but I didn’t have a clue of the issues that were yet to come.”

IT WAS GETTING WORSE AND WORSE

Over the coming weeks, Judy’s body tried to recover from the crash. She was sore, black and blue, and gradually developing pain in her right hip and leg. When she swallowed, it felt like something was stuck in her throat.

Then life threw another challenge in her path.

“The pain in my leg and hip was awful. It got worse day by day until I could barely walk to the mailbox without excruciating pain. I felt like I was falling apart,” she says. “About that time, COVID hit, and it was impossible to get in with doctors, physical therapists, or pain management doctors. I was feeling really hopeless.”

Finally, she secured an appointment with a spine doctor for an MRI. The scan revealed why she was in so much pain: she needed to have two discs removed and a spacer put in, along with two rods and six screws. She was close to losing movement in her right leg and foot.

“My whole back was unstable. It was disconnecting,” she says. “I had to do something to stop it, or I was going to have drop foot. There was no way out except to have spinal surgery.”

The thought of surgery made Judy nervous. She hoped it would be minimally invasive, and that she might be able to avoid it entirely with the right combination of nonsurgical treatments. She tried physical therapy and acupuncture, but neither provided relief. She considered injections to help manage the pain, but the waitlist was 500 people long. She was out of options.

“Nothing was working. It was getting worse and worse,” she recalls. “The physical therapist I was seeing said, ‘I can’t see you anymore. Your leg is so weak, and I noticed your foot is starting to drop. You’ve got to get something done.’ That’s when I got hold of the spinal surgeon and said, ‘Ok, we’ve got to meet again.’”

IT WAS MORE THAN A DIASTASIS RECTI PROBLEM

Judy’s surgery was not the minimally invasive procedure she’d had in mind. It required an incision in her back to place the spacer, rods and screws, as well as an incision in her abdomen to remove the two damaged discs. The back procedure went well, and to date, Judy has no issues in the area.

The abdominal incision was a different story. The area was intensely swollen after surgery. Judy chalked it up to a normal part of the healing process, but when the swelling showed no signs of subsiding, she began to suspect that something wasn’t right.

“My lower abdomen started getting much bigger and dropping,” she says. “The bulge was big and so uncomfortable. I felt as though I were six months pregnant. I could feel the muscles rippling inside me as I got up and down and while walking. I had to wear an abdominal binder just to move around. It hurt when I would sneeze, cough or even laugh. I had to hold on to my abdomen firmly to get through it.”

A CT scan revealed that Judy had diastasis recti, a separation of the abdominal wall muscles that most often occurs after pregnancy. The physical therapist she was seeing for her back told her that no amount of therapy could correct this problem, and a gynecologist warned her that it needed to be fixed promptly or it could cause many more issues.

“My active lifestyle came to a halt. I didn’t even want to leave the house. I didn’t want anyone to see me,” she says. “This hit me in so many ways — physically, aesthetically and emotionally. It was much more than a diastasis recti problem. My whole life had changed, and I didn’t know what to do.”

After she visited the surgeon who performed the abdominal incision, the answer became clear: Judy needed to see a plastic surgeon.

“For the first time, a doctor was able to tell me exactly what was going on in a way that I could understand.”

Despite her initial reluctance to see a plastic surgeon, Judy began an exhaustive search to find someone who could restore her pain-free, active life. After evaluating over 100 surgeons in the Austin area, one name stood out above all the rest…

Read Part Two

If you’re interested in learning more about facelifts or would like to schedule a consultation with Dr. Sharma at Plastic Surgery Austin, please give us a call at 512-324-2765 today!

HELP IS AVAILABLE

Contact our office to schedule a private consultation with Board Certified Plastic Surgeon, Sanjay K. Sharma, M.D., F.A.C.S.