Tuesday, October 4, 2022
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I’ve had 3 sets of breast implants over the past 24 years. They’ve ruined my physical and mental health.

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  • Bee Wickert-Leng, 54, had three sets of implants put in over the past 24 years.
  • She said she repeatedly asked doctors to take them out but the doctors kept denying her requests.
  • This is her story, as told to Zuva Seven.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Bee Wickert-Leng. It has been edited for length and clarity.

I didn’t go out looking to get breast implants; they were recommended to me by my doctor because I never developed breasts and it was affecting my life in a few ways, including my mental health. Initially I was hesitant, but I was told they were 100% safe.

Ever since my initial surgery in 1999, I’ve suffered from a host of symptoms that are commonly referred to as breast-implant illness, or BII. But for over two decades doctors refused to listen to my requests to get the implants removed.

Now, almost a quarter of a century later, I’ve had them removed, but I don’t know if I’ll ever feel fully healthy again. The implants have already done their damage; however, I’ve worked to accept that and made some lifestyle changes.

While I’m still quite sick since getting them out, even my kids can see a positive difference in how I look, talk, and behave. What I want now is for more people who are going through the same thing to know they aren’t alone.

Growing up, I never developed breasts, and I was bullied for it by friends and family

I had an abusive father, and the men in my family weren’t very nice. So when I didn’t develop any breasts as a teenager, they’d say things to me like, “You can’t tell the difference in front from the back.” My male friends would call me “nips,” so I’d put socks down my bras to try to stop the mocking.

Even after getting married and having children, I would hide my chest from my husband. My general practitioner told me I could get implants after my hysterectomy — he wanted me to wait until I was sure I was done having children. I had the surgery in November 1997, at the age of 30.

Bee Wickert-Leng before her first breast implant surgery wearing a long black dress

Wickert-Leng before her first breast-implant surgery.

Courtesy Bee Wickert-Leng


They put in 250cc soya implants, and it took a while to feel comfortable with my new chest. Even though I did feel more feminine, I would still cover them up, and I told myself things would settle. Then, in May 1999 — 19 months after the first surgery — I was called in to get them replaced.

The kind of implants I had were found to be toxic and were eventually banned. Unfortunately, when I had the operation, they found out the soya in one had leaked through the silicone shell into my breast tissue. Due to the implant recall, all that was offered to us was saline replacements.

Even after getting the 2nd set of implants, my health continued to decline

My left implant encapsulated — which is what it’s called when fibrous scar tissue forms around the implant as a form of protection — straight away. I also started suffering from headaches and fatigue, but my surgeon reassured me that those symptoms would be temporary.

Additionally, I started getting anxiety attacks, which I had never experienced before.

By this time it was the early 2000s, and the doctors couldn’t find anything to suggest my implants were responsible for these symptoms, even though both had encapsulated so badly they looked like two rings on my chest.

After my divorce in 2007, I moved to Scotland. There, I started seeing a new GP, who agreed I needed to get them removed. They referred me to a surgeon, and I told them I didn’t want new implants and preferred a fat transfer. However, the surgeon disagreed and gave me polyurethane implants in September 2007.

Bee Wickert-Leng after her third implant surgery wearing a pink tank top and white button-down shirt

Wickert-Leng after her third implant surgery.

Courtesy Bee Wickert-Leng


My symptoms still didn’t go away, and three weeks after the surgery I asked again to get my implants removed. Yet again, my surgeon refused to remove them; worse still, they made it seem like they’d done me a favor.

For 13 years, I kept returning to the same GP, and he’d dismiss me. At this time, my hair started falling out, the pain in my breasts got worse, and my depression got really bad. But I got a new doctor in 2020 who read my notes and finally arranged for me to get them out.

My explant surgery was scheduled for July 2021, but my suicidal ideation got really bad, and I almost didn’t make it

By 2021 I’d been waiting over five years to see plastics. My immune system was worn out, and the pain in my breasts was awful. My left implant was clearly ruptured, and I’d later find out I had capsular contracture, grade four — the worst one — so my GP got me an emergency referral. Things moved quickly from here, and I had a CT scan and photographs done after two weeks.

They were worried I might have breast-implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma, so 15 days after this, in July 2021, I had my surgery.

The operation wasn’t perfect, but getting the implants out saved my life.

Since then, everything has changed. My immune system is still recovering, but my depression has gotten so much better, and I have little tufts now from my hair growing back in various spots. My headaches are less frequent, I can finally breathe again with the weight removed, and the psoriasis flare-ups I was having due to my overtaxed immune system are starting to clear.

I still have episodes of random allergic reactions to things, but I now have a really good GP, and we are working through it. Everyone says it’s probably my body detoxing — it might be, but getting them removed after 24 years isn’t a miracle cure.

I regret blindly assuming these doctors knew what they were talking about. I always thought I was just a fragile little thing, but I’m glad I trusted myself in the end.

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