Stella Diep Flap Patient

Have you ever heard the saying, “life is what happens to you when you’re doing other things?” One moment I was a busy editor on the Gulf Coast. The next I was Alice, falling down the rabbit hole.

It began with a suspicious mammogram, then a stereotactic biopsy that resulted in a diagnosis of ductal carcinoma in situ of the left breast. I was told if you have to have breast cancer, DCIS is the best because it’s slow-growing and once removed requires no chemotherapy or radiation.

I made an appointment with a local surgeon expecting to be told I needed a lumpectomy. Instead, he said I needed a mastectomy. As a preventative measure, he also wanted to take my right breast, which was healthy. I decided to seek a second opinion. The next surgeon agreed on the mastectomy and said there was no need to remove the right breast; however, he refused to discuss any type of nipple saving procedure – something that was important to me.

He sent me to a plastic surgeon to discuss reconstruction options. They included an implant or cutting a strip of my abdominal muscle loose and twisting it across my chest to create a new breast. The second procedure would leave me with muscle weakness in my abdomen. Either way, tattooing would be required to create a new nipple. I was devastated. I went home and had a spectacular pity party.

The next day I called a friend who had survived breast cancer for advice and support. She told me about the NOLA Group for the Advancement of Breast Reconstruction at Omega Hospital in New Orleans. NOLA GABRs is a stellar team of skilled physicians that perform breast-conserving and nipple-sparing mastectomies and specialize in microsurgical DIEP Flap breast surgery, the most advanced form of breast reconstruction surgery available today. The surgery involves using the patient’s own tissue to reconstruct a breast that results in a more natural appearance and avoids the problems that can occur with implants.

I made an appointment with the group’s surgical oncologist, Dr. Alan Stolier. I liked him immediately. He was direct, humorous and kind and best of all, he agreed to try to save my nipple.

Next, I had an appointment with Dr. Maria LoTempio to discuss my reconstruction. Dr. LoTempio was passionate, upbeat and professional. It comforted me to know that as a woman, she understood the fears and emotions I was going through.

I asked if I could have a tour of the hospital. Omega Hospital is nestled at the end of Severn Avenue in New Orleans. The rooms are set up like hotel suites with a fold-out Murphy bed so your loved ones can stay overnight with you, a mini-bar, a microwave, and a coffee maker. Patients receive robes, fresh flowers in the room, and food from local restaurants.

My surgery was successful, my nipple was saved and the doctors, nurses and auxiliary staff made my stay at the hospital a pleasant one. These folks turned a frightening situation into a positive experience. If you have breast cancer or need reconstructive surgery, I don’t think you will find a more professional, skilled, attentive, caring group of people anywhere. It’s been a little over a year since my surgery and I’m thrilled with the results. My breast is beautiful, I feel great and I’m very grateful that I found such a technically skilled, caring team of professionals.

Stella’s definitely got her groove back! 

Stella Pierson