Georgia woman believes breast implants made her ill

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At 38, Candice Silva sometimes wishes she could go back in time and tell her younger self not to get saline breast implants.

But, at 25, she says, she was excited, and didn't do a whole lot of research about the risks.

"I think back on it now, and I, probably like many others, didn't want to know any of the negative effects," Silva says. "It was something I'd wanted for a really long time."

Now, all Silva wants is get her breast implants taken out.

Because, she says, even early on, in the first few months after her surgery in 2005, she started developing nagging infections.

"I was getting sick," Silva says. "I was having my first urinary tract infections that were having a hard time going away."

Then, about 3 years in, Silva says, the fatigue set in, and she started struggling with hormonal problems, and other lingering infections.

Trying to get pregnant with her daughter Olivia, Silva says, she struggled with infertility. 

She says she was seeing specialists, getting tests, and feeling sicker.

"What was the point of going to the doctor," Silva remembers asking herself.  "Because all it was another bill that we probably weren't going to be able to pay without an answer."

In the spring of 2019, Silva found a Facebook group of women who believe their breast implants are making them sick.

There are just over 87,000 members of the group.

The women even have a name for what they believe they have: breast implant illness.

And Atlanta plastic surgeon Dr. Marisa Lawrence, who has performed thousands of breast reconstructions and augmentations using saline and silicone gel implants over the past 25 years, believes them.

Lawrence says most plastic surgeons maintain the implants are safe, and most of the scientific research backs that claim.

"I don't think breast implants are harmful in every patient," Dr. Lawrence says. "I have breast implants, and I have none of the symptoms of breast implant illness.  However, I have seen very sick patients and I have seen patients with rashes, with hair loss, with fatigue."

To try to figure out why, in 2017, Dr. Lawrence started tracking women like Candice Silva, who are having their implants taken out. 

She's followed 245, she says, and Lawrence has seen a striking pattern on their questionnaires.

"At 3 months after surgery, 86% of them are better, and at a year, 95% are," she says.  "So, this has convinced me that breast implant illness is a real disease.  It's a real illness, and it warrants our attention as medical practitioners."

Dr. Lawrence has applied for a research grant to pull together a team plastic surgeons, pathologist, and toxicologists, to blood and tissue samples collected from women who believe their implants have made them sick.

"Is it a genetic predisposition," Dr. Lawrence asks.  "Is it a low grade infection? Is it the metals that are used to make the implants?" 

After 13 years with her implants, Candice Silva isn't waiting around for an answer.

Early this week, she headed back into surgery, to have the implants removed.

"I'm totally considering this my 39th birthday present," Silva says.

Breast implants are not considered lifetime devices.

Many women have them removed and replaced after 10 to 15 years.

Candice Silva says she's feeling good three days after her surgery.

She has no regrets.