A Long Road To Healing

Melissa Byrne's breast reconstruction didn't go as planned — until she got to RUSH.
Following a mastectomy, Melissa Byrne faced numerous reconstruction surgery setbacks — until she came to RUSH and met plastic surgeon George Kokosis, MD.

After Melissa Byrne was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2020, a mastectomy completely removed the cancer. Her surgeon was also able to begin breast reconstruction during the mastectomy. 

“I didn’t need chemo or radiation, which was a good thing for me,” Melissa said.

The problems came later: Melissa faced unexpected complications when the surgical wound failed to heal properly.

Setback after setback

Melissa had a second surgery to reverse her failed reconstruction. That turned into a third and fourth. Then, a fifth and sixth. None of the attempts to reconstruct her breast healed properly, and all of them needed to be reversed because of a complication.

After all these surgeries, she was right back where she started: no reconstruction after her mastectomy.

Her original breast surgeon was honest with her.

“He said this is as far as I can go with you — your case is too complex for me,” Melissa said. “But I have the perfect doctor for you at RUSH.”

Melissa had her first appointment with George Kokosis, MD, a plastic surgeon at RUSH, in June 2022.

Successful reconstruction, at last

After six failed procedures, Melissa could have given up on reconstruction. But she knew she wanted to live without the visual reminder of her cancer.

“When I got to Dr. Kokosis, I was in a bad place,” Melissa said. “I knew if this wasn’t going to work, then I was going to have to live like this. I felt like an alien in a movie.”

Kokosis works with many patients who have had multiple failed attempts for breast reconstruction. And his experience and confidence were obvious.

“We immediately connected,” Melissa said. “He had done his homework and knew what was going on with me. He spent more than an hour talking to me and hearing my story. After the first appointment, I’m like, OK, I think he’s got this.”

“Like Melissa, a lot of my patients come to see me after failed reconstructions where simple solutions have not worked,” Kokosis said. “She was sent to me because we have expertise in taking care of challenging breast reconstruction cases.”

Kokosis wanted to use Melissa’s own tissue to create a base for her newly reconstructed breast. After discussing the different options, Melissa decided to have tissue from her back used for the reconstruction.

Even after her multiple surgeries, Melissa trusted that Dr. Kokosis would be able to care for her.

“I didn’t go into the surgery totally freaked out,” Melissa said. “He made me comfortable and able to trust the process. And, everything came out just as Dr. Kokosis explained.”

Melissa had a total of three total procedures with Kokosis, and she had no complications during her recovery. Her final procedure in January 2023 marked a complete breast reconstruction.

“Dr. Kokosis and his team have been nothing short of amazing, and I couldn’t have asked for a better surgeon or team working with me,” Melissa said.

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