It’s 50 years since 1962 when the first breast augmentation procedure using silicone implants took place. The recipient of those first implants was Timmie Jean Lindsey. Lindsey, a 30 year old divorced mother of six, was at Houston’s Jefferson Davis hospital to remove a garish tattoo of roses on her chest, when the inventor of the implants offered her the opportunity for a breast enhancement using silicone breast implants. 

As a result of the two-hour procedure, Lindsey acquired a C cup, a modest transition from her B cup, and she thought her new breasts perfect: “soft and just like real breasts”. Although it wasn’t a big deal to her, she says “…it made men more aware of me. More men would whistle at me”.

She kept silent about her silicone implants for 20 years, but on this 50th anniversary Timmy Jean Lindsey is in the news, and her story has been covered by the BBC, the Guardian, the New York Daily News (Perky grandma recalls being 1st woman to get silicone breast implants) and W Magazine (Golden Globes) among others.

Meanwhile, her surgeon, Dr. Frank Gerow, has reviewed her case in medical journals.

Lindsey feels fortunate to have been spared many of the side effects encountered by some implant recipients. Her implants have, however, become calcified, causing Lindsey, at 80, some discomfort when she engages in activities that use her pectoral muscles. She says that the surrounding breast tissue held the implants in place until she turned 70, when they started to sag.

If she could do it again? “I’d probably just go for a breast lift. That’s really all I needed,” she stated, in the NY Daily News interview.

Lindsey says she is proud to have played an early role in the development of breast implants. She is delighted that implants are available to so many women, especially those who need breast reconstruction. “It makes them whole again”. She is “so happy if Dr. Gerow’s silicone implants are what started it all.”

She is not in favour of procedures that go overboard, considering them “a cry for attention. The women must have poor self-esteem. I don’t think you ought to pin your hopes on it changing everything.”

The 50th anniversary of silicone implants has focused attention on interesting historical facts surrounding breast enhancement.

According to the W Magazine article on the topic, “In the early 20th century, surgeons tried fillers like glass and ivory balls, peanut oil, goat’s milk, ox cartilage, honey—and paraffin, which melted in high heat.” Can you imagine that?

Thankfully, the plastic revolution came up with materials that are far more practical, like Teflon, nylon, and Plexiglas. The first implants filled with silicone gel were created by plastic surgeons Thomas Cronin and Frank Gerow with the Dow Corning Corporation. The first augmentations on 12 Houston-area women including Timmie Jean Lindsey used the Cronin–Gerow Implants. The Guardian story, Breast implants: the first 50 years, details the history and development of the silicone implants. You might also enjoy the BBC story.

In 2011 the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) reported, “Surgical techniques for breast augmentation and breast implants themselves are continuously being refined, increasing the safety and reliability of the procedure”.

While silicone breast implants enjoy their golden anniversary and will continue to be used for some time, the W Magazine article predicts it unlikely that silicone implants will be around to celebrate their centenary. “The future is fat!” declares Tom Biggs, a former surgeon who was a medical resident at the time of those first silicone implant procedures in Houston.

As we have reported before, surgeons are perfecting stem-cell-enriched fat obtained from other parts of the body for use in breast augmentation procedures, and early clinical trials have reported positive results. The future of breast augmentation may indeed be fat!

A half-century since its successful launch and its continuing evolution and development is definitely something to celebrate. So, to silicone breast implants, a happy 50th birthday!

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