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Getting my breasts done changed my life ... I want my implants replaced

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Serita Clery

Serita Clery

Serita Clery

Sarita Clery is one of the 1,500 Irish women who have been fitted with suspect breast implants. When the women spoke out, they were met with hostility, and even a suggestion that they were vain and deserved to die of cancer.

'I was quite plain growing up. I wanted to wear nice clothes but they didn't cling to the right bits," says 31-year-old Sarita Clery from Lucan, Dublin, explaining her reasons to have breast implants.

"I didn't want any attention thrown my way because of the way I felt about my body. So instead I covered up and I would look at other girls enviously, even my sisters, and wish I looked more like them."

Wearing heavy winter coats in the blistering sun and boosting one side of her bra with 'chicken fillets' were just two of the drastic lengths Sarita used to go to in order to conceal her chest imperfections.

For Sarita, now a stay-at-home mother of four, no amount of teetering high heels, shiny red lipstick and glossy hair could compensate for the fact that she couldn't show off her breasts, the key ingredient for her in the female make-up.

Hyper-critical of her looks as a teenager, Sarita suffered from 'boob envy' and craved her own nipped and tucked version.

Dying her hair and buying the latest fashion fads were just second best to an ample chest.

"School was very tough," she says. "I was a late developer anyway, but to me it just felt like every other girl had a bigger chest than me, which wasn't too hard because I didn't have a lot there in the first place.

"The uniform didn't help either, because you had to wear a shirt and a heavy jumper. I always looked like I was flat-chested.

"One year we went on a trip to the Aran Islands and we went to an all-girls school," she explains. "I would get undressed underneath the covers and still keep my bra on, and then I would wear lots of layers of clothing during the day. I can honestly say I really hated my figure back then. I felt ugly."

Sarita soon began to find other faults with her chest. "From the age of 17, I noticed I was much bigger on the right-hand side of my chest than the left.

"With three sisters and a mother blessed with big chests, I felt very shy and self-conscious, so I decided at 21 that I would get something done about it to increase my low self-esteem and lack of confidence."

Sarita, like other flat-chested women, knew all the tricks. A favourite was buying tops with large embellishments, such as big buttons and lacy bows, to accentuate her non-existent chest.

"Before I had my implants I couldn't wear a strapless top or anything too tight-fitting, as I felt you could notice the size difference and I felt very small in chest size," she says.

"I hated buying clothes and I completely covered up all the time. I never wore a swimsuit and avoided cute bikinis, all elements of a skimpy summer wardrobe, because I was so embarrassed."

Sarita was a firm believer that men wouldn't find her attractive without evidence of perky breasts.

"I didn't think men would find me attractive, but that wasn't only down to my chest size -- it was also because of my mindset. It filtered down into everything else.

"I wanted to fade into the background and believed I didn't deserve a guy's attention because eventually he would discover my imperfections and he wouldn't be interested anymore," she says.

In 2001, Sarita underwent breast augmentation surgery at a cost of €5,000, through the reputable Harley Medical Group, who were leaders in the field of cosmetic surgery in the country at the time.

"This operation was a way for me to deal with my problem," Sarita explains. "It was designed to help me come out of my shell -- it wasn't a decision I entered into lightly.

"As I had been constantly thinking about the procedure from the age of 17, a lot of research had been done to find the top cosmetic company in the country."

Not everyone was as keen about the operation as Sarita, though. "My mum didn't want me to get the surgery, she was worried about complications," she says.

"My family didn't think I would go through with it. Not until the day I was getting the train to Clane General Hospital did they believe me."

Even though it's 10 years ago, Sarita remembers very clearly waking up after the operation with a heavy sensation in her chest.

"It was like an elephant sitting on my chest with the swelling and pressure," she says.

But this was overshadowed by a sense of relief that she now possessed a flawless chest with exact proportions.

"On the left-hand side I had to get a different size implant to the right-hand side to even it out. On my left-hand side was a 290cc and on my right-hand side was a 250cc. It was like an A cup on the left and a B cup on the right," Sarita says.

Dressed in her support bra post-surgery and all bandaged up, she remembers immediately looking down to grab a sneak peak at her new voluptuous chest.

"It was so swollen, it was nearly up to my neck. My breasts were huge and I had two tube-like drains hanging from either breast, but the soreness was combated by the fact that I was finally happy and had a chest now which looked good."

Sarita soon resumed normal daily life, putting the days of woolly winter coats and 'chicken fillets' behind her.

"I could wear anything I liked and went on big shopping sprees. I bought a lot of clothes around that time," she says.

"I don't think it was noticeable to others I had breast implants, as I had been wearing chicken fillets for some time, but I suppose before I was the type of person who would have been quite covered up, and even when I got the surgery I still wouldn't have been flaunting them," she adds.

In 2010, a French breast-implant firm, Poly Implant Prothese (PIP), closed after regulators found it was using a non-medical grade silicone in implants.

The PIP implants had received the CE -- or European Conformity -- mark, meaning they met the relevant EU safety requirements.

However, the company subsequently used an alternative cheaper material to that which was approved for the safety requirements.

In March of that year, a full recall of these implants was initiated in Ireland after a French woman died of a rare form of cancer.

Cancers were later found in 20 other women with the allegedly faulty PIP breast implants, but the French health authorities (AFSSAPS) insisted there was no proven link with the disease.

The Irish Medical Board (IMB) ensured that all hospitals and clinics in Ireland that had used these devices were advised of the issue, and told to stop using the products.

On May 26, 2011, test results confirmed "no evidence of genotoxicity or chemical toxicity of the filler material in breast implants manufactured by PIP".

However, the mechanical testing of the implant shell carried out by AFSSAPS confirmed that there may be an increased risk of rupture, and last December 30,000 French women were advised to have the implants removed.

Approximately 1,500 Irish patients were implanted with these products and the IMB received reports of potential adverse incidents from a small percentage of patients.

Unfortunately, Sarita was soon to learn that she was one of the 400,000 women worldwide who had received these PIP implants.

In January 2012, she received an alarming phone call from her husband, Brian, informing her of the global health scare which was circulating.

Then, on January 26, French police arrested the founder of PIP, Jean-Claude Mas, over the use of these substandard silicones.

"Brian had seen it on boards.ie. I told him not to be ridiculous, but I rang up the helpline of the Harley Medical Group, who told me they would be in touch in due course. I waited for over a week, but I was never contacted," says Sarita.

"I then got on to the helpline again, which was really unhelpful, so I started ringing the Dublin clinic and they were saying conflicting things in comparison to what those in the UK were saying, but, overall, they were putting out a 'no need to worry' message.

"I just waited and waited and was getting nowhere, so I starting ringing them several times a day. It was like a brick wall," she adds.

After weeks of getting nowhere with the Harley Medical Group and chasing medical files, Sarita found out the clinics were only required to keep medical records for up to eight years in Ireland.

An official comment from the Harley Medical Group says: "Some of the Harley Medical Group files date back to 2000, the files were archived and this process has taken a considerable amount of time and resources to go through.

"During the course of 12 years of our operation in Ireland some patients will have moved home, etc. We are only required to keep medical records for eight years in Ireland and so we are doing our best to locate every single patient."

However, this doesn't sit well with Sarita.

After much frustration accessing information from professionals and private clinics on the confirmation of the use of PIP implants, Sarita then rang Clane General Hospital, who finally told her the news she had been waiting for -- she did have PIP implants.

"I was really upset it had taken me seven weeks to find out whether I had them. I should have contacted Clane in the first place, who were able to tell me straight away."

It is understood that up to 1,500 women in Ireland have the PIP implants, with 1,100 of those being former patients of the Harley Medical Group.

In November 2010, the Harley Medical Group told the Irish Medical Board (IMB) on two separate occassions that it had written letters to all its Irish patients who had PIP implants.

It later admitted that it had not in fact contacted the women and communication to patients was via Harley's website only.

The IMB says it was misinformed by Harley Medical Group regarding contact with its former patients, and that its instructions to the clinic were not followed.

"They have totally misinformed the IMB," says Sarita, who is now part of the PIP Action Group Ireland. "They were meant to send a letter out to all their patients back in 2010 when all this came to light; they told the IMB they had contacted all their patients and they hadn't.

"Then when they were questioned about it, they said they would do it. January of this year was the deadline.

"Day to day, there are women contacting me saying they have only just found out. The Harley Medical Clinic has said its 'priority is to schedule appointments with surgeons for patients with confirmed ruptures'."

Sarita is waiting for an MRI scan,

but whether the implants are ruptured or not, she wants them removed and replaced as she believes they are the catalyst for her and many others having aches, pains and hair loss.

"It is very odd that out of 400,000 women who have nothing in common with each other, apart from the fact we all have the same implants, we are all complaining of the same symptoms.

"Hair loss, tiredness, joint pain, pain in breasts, rippling, which are ridges underneath the skin -- we all can't be wrong," says Sarita.

"I don't want to go back to the way I was because not only would I have the unevenness that I had, but my breasts would be saggy and they would be completely scarred from having them opened up again and having the implants taken out," she explains.

Responses for a resolution to the problem have varied among different foreign authorities, and Sarita feels the Irish stance on the issue is very unfair.

The action group that she's part of is asking the Minister for Health and the Government to support victims of PIP implants and hold responsible each clinic for its duty of care to each and every Irish patient with PIP implants.

"The scientific report from the top experts in Europe says they cannot guarantee there are no health risks until more testing is undergone on explanted implants," says Sarita.

"We ask that the surgeons and clinics involved provide all scans and tests necessary, remove all PIP implants, and offer replacement FDA-approved alternatives."

Lavelle Coleman Solicitors are representing a large number of women with breast implants recalled by manufacturer PIP who want their day in court.

Sarita dismisses the notion that women with breast implants all want to be glamour models who look for attention.

"None of the women I'm dealing with on a daily basis are vain at all. We're just a group of normal women who, under normal circumstances, really wouldn't want the attention that has been thrown our way.

"These ladies are mothers and professionals," she says.

"I ignore the people who think I'm vain and I can understand they are not into cosmetic surgery. But that's not the issue -- the issue has always been about the product and the product we have is defective.

"If you bought a washing machine and it was recalled, you would want a new washing machine. You wouldn't be expected to buy one yourself," says Sarita.

"These implants are now banned and have been recalled so they should be replaced."

www.pipactiongroup.com

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