Locals find the fountain of youth in cosmetic surgery

By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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As far as Mary Johanson is concerned, her plastic surgeon walks on water. The Grass Valley resident, now 72, experienced a transformation that she said made her look on the outside, the way she feels on the inside. Four years after her tummy tuck, mini facelift and upper eyelid lift, Johanson is thrilled she opted to be nipped and tucked. She is one of many local residents who have gone under the knife for cosmetic plastic surgery. Despite the cost and potential risks, these patients say their procedures were ultimately worth it. After gaining and losing weight from having four kids, Johanson said she became fed up by extra skin on her stomach. She went to see Dr. Jonathan Freed at his practice in Auburn, who performed an abdominoplasty and upper eyelid lift on her. Later, she went back to have a lower facelift to remove what she calls her “turkey neck.” According to Johanson, before her surgery she would have to put a washcloth between her chin and neck to absorb the sweat that gathered there while she was reading in bed. “Most of this was for vanity. I had gained and lost weight. I had to lift the fat up,” Johanson said. “I don’t look like an old hag. I’m not trying to look 50, but I look pretty darn good for my age.” Johanson said her experience with surgery was ideal. She experienced little pain and was back to work within a week. “To me the pain was nothing. I never gave it a second thought because Dr. Freed instills such confidence,” Johanson said. “I probably went from a size 18 to a size 10 in pants. It was probably only 20 pounds that I lost.” After her lower facelift, most of Johanson’s friends and family didn’t know exactly what she had done, but commented that she looked more rested. She has become such an advocate for cosmetic surgery that she encouraged her sister to have some procedures done as well. Next month, Johanson’s sister is making the trip from the Bay Area to have surgery by Dr. Freed. “It’s not something you go into lightly because it is not cheap. It’s something you have to do for you,” Johanson said. “There is no time like the present. I tell people to change their hair when they get surgery and people will know something is different, but won’t know what you had done.” Ruth Swiggum, 55, of Roseville lost 120 pounds on a diet program about a year ago. Even after such a dramatic weight loss, the sagging skin she had left over made it difficult for her to feel good about her body. “I pretty much needed a whole body makeover,” Swiggum sad. Initially, she had a tummy tuck and facelift. Pleased with her results, Swiggum also decided to have a thigh lift, butt lift, breast lift and upper back lift. Swiggum said that while she would have the procedures performed again in a heartbeat, they were painful. “I spent a year and a half recuperating. There was a significant amount of pain,” Swiggum said. “I would do any or all of it again. I still have to go look in the mirror sometimes. I’m in a thin, healthy body.” That thin, healthy body hasn’t come without its price though. Swiggum still attends weekly meetings for her diet support group. She has also experienced some numbness in her body as a result of the surgeries. “I do have areas of numbness. They are just taking out layers of tissue and skin, so that makes sense,” Swiggum said. “It’s just bothersome, but you adjust to it and don’t notice it, then it goes away.” Overall, Swiggum estimates that her surgeries cost $50,000. Dr. Freed said helping patients like Swiggum re-contour their bodies after dramatic weight loss is one of the most rewarding aspects of his job. “A lot of patients don’t feel about themselves the way they thought they were going to because of all the loose skin,” Freed said. “It wasn’t something I set out to be from the time I was 10 years old. I really enjoyed the ability to see the results of what I did.” Freed said most of his patients have a healthy perception of what surgery will do for them and choose natural looking results. “In Hollywood and things we see a lot of abuse of plastic surgery,” Freed said. “Plastic surgery is really good to get rid of a problem everybody has. For example, a guy who is 55, and his wife is 40, and he is sick of being called grandpa. He feels self conscious because of that. Most people don’t want to look like a spectacle. They just want to look normal.” Freed said when it comes to defining “normal” there are certain measurements and guidelines given in plastic surgery training. Beyond the technicalities of nipple-to-clavicle ratios and eyebrow spacing, Freed said generally youth translates to beauty. “Beauty is generally youth and youth is beauty. The two are very close together,” Freed said. “We try to restore that.” Freed said even on a 21-year old, characteristics like extra hooding of eyelid skin, are unappealing because they are not youthful. Mixing youth with health leads to the best-looking results, according to Freed. Some treatments, like Botox and Restylane, are less-invasive and provide more temporary results. “When I opened my practice in Auburn in 1999 the only filler we had was collagen. Since then, there are seven or eight different fillers that have come out.” Occasionally, Freed sees patients who have conditions like Body Dismorphic Disorder that cause them to see imperfections that don’t exist or request excessive amounts of surgery. “When you have those people you really want to help them, find who they are, having an end point that is clearly in view,” Freed said. Freed said over the years he has had some strange requests, including someone who asked to have no belly button after a tummy tuck. In those instances, he encourages patients to think about how they may feel years from now. “I tell them you may not like feeling like you aren’t a part of the human race,” Freed said. “I try to keep patients within the range of what is normal and appropriate.” As with any surgery, Freed said there risks to getting cosmetic plastic surgery. “It is an operation just like any other surgery, like having your gall bladder removed or a knee replacement,” Freed said. “We worry about nerve function, we worry about bleeding, we worry about infection, we worry about scar-quality.” According to Freed anyone considering plastic surgery should only be operated on by an American Board of Plastic Surgeons Certified doctor. Reach Sara Seyydin at