‘It was very frightening:’ Clay County woman shares story about ‘breast implant illness’

CLAY COUNTY, Fla. — It can be a confidence and cosmetic boost, but for some, their plastic surgery dreams turned into dangerous realities.

Breast implant surgery is one that many people walk into hoping they will walk out feeling better in some way. That wasn’t the case for Jacksonville mom, Kelley Butler.

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She said her breast implants made her sick.

In 2011, Butler was looking for a change after raising and nursing two babies. One of those babies is Tiffany Butler, an Action News Jax producer.

“I went in to consult with a very reputable plastic surgeon in town for a breast lift,” Kelley Butler said.

During the consultation, the nurse suggested Kelley Butler get breast implants instead of a lift.

The nurse told her implants would keep her at the same natural size but give her the refresh she was looking for.

Kelley Butler said the nurse also told her she “wouldn’t have to have this procedure again.”

After the implant procedure, “the next few years seemed really good. I was happy,” Kelley Butler said. “But then the symptoms started.”

Kelley Butler said it was a gradual progression of symptoms until a major turning point.

“June of the past year, I was sitting at my computer doing some work and all of a sudden I had the most intense chest pain,” she said. “My left arm went numb and had some burning and tingling.”

“It was very frightening. I thought I was having a heart attack.”

After follow-up testing, her primary care doctor ruled out a heart attack. Her doctor said, the issues could be related to her breasts, so Kelley Butler went back to the plastic surgeon.

Implants undergo extensive testing for safety and effectiveness before being approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The agency lists a number of risks on its website, including a type of cancer connected directly to breast implants.

Kelley Butler found a support group online through Facebook and connected with Dee Hicks. Hicks is a breast explant liaison out of South Florida. The procedure to remove implants is commonly referred to as an explant.

Hicks was there, the day Kelley Butler decided she once again needed to have surgery.

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Since the explant, Kelly Butler said health has changed completely for the better.

“I feel like I got a new lease on life,” she said.

“Women don’t fake being sick…they fake feeling good,” Hicks said. “That’s the truth.”

Hicks explained that she too experienced symptoms just like Kelley Butler, for years.

“Nobody could figure out what was wrong with me,” Hicks said.

“When I woke up from my (explant) surgery, 45 of the 54 symptoms were gone, immediately,” Hicks said.

Hicks and Kelley Butler are just two of the thousands of women who have experienced something the FDA calls “breast implant illness.”

The FDA said 400,000 women in the United States get breast implants every year. Nearly 60% will need a repeat operation.

“I became very outspoken in this,” Hicks said. In 2019, she took her concerns to Washington D.C.

Dozens of women testified in FDA hearings about their dangerous battles with breast implant illness.

“We really realized the power that we had,” Hicks said.

After those hearings, the FDA decided to make changes.

In October 2021, the FDA issued new restrictions on breast implants.

They approved new labeling for all legally marketed breast implants that includes a boxed warning, similar to the warning you might see on cigarettes.

That order also restricts the sale of breast implants only to health care providers who give their patients a “patient decision checklist.”

The FDA said those changes will help patients be more aware of the risks involved in the procedure.

“We’re not done. We have a lot of work to do,” Hicks said. “Even though this is a little win in our corner, there’s still so much to be done.”

In Arizona, the state Senate unanimously passed a bill that requires plastic surgeons to provide patients with a checklist of the health risks posed by breast implants.

That bill requires surgeons to get written, informed consent before performing surgery.

Right now in Florida, advocates are pushing lawmakers to pass similar legislation.