by David Sisler

Rio De Janeiro is the plastic surgery capital of the world. There are more plastic surgeons per capita in Rio than in any other city in the world, almost 1000 practitioners for the city's 6.3 million residents. So many people come to have a face lift, a tummy tuck, or a more serious reconstruction, that travel agents book "plastic surgery vacations" into Brazil's largest city.

A taxi driver who is directed to 65 Rua Dona Mariana will give a knowing wink. That is the address of Ivo Pitanguy, a plastic surgeon who is considered a national celebrity in Brazil. For $15,000 you can get a face lift at his elegant clinic, a nose job for $10,000, or if you are one of Brazil's poor, plastic surgery is done for free at his Holy House Plastic Surgery Clinic.

Pitanguy has developed an international reputation for his techniques. He performs face lifts "that are brilliantly imperfect," according to Carlos Pestalardo, a Buenos Aires plastic surgeon. "He has a way of making the face look as if it is younger, but without seeming too perfect Pitanguy's faces don't have that stretched look that advertises to everyone I've had plastic surgery.'"

In 1960, Pitanguy, who had served as a doctor in the Brazilian army in World War II, founded a clinic for the poor. "I saw soldiers in horrible physical condition, but I also saw the emotional scars of their wounds," he said. "Restoration of the body became important to me."

Patients who come to the clinic at Holy House Plastic Surgery Clinic must pay for only the cost of materials, such as medicines and gauze, not for the services of the 20 international plastic surgery residents who have come to learn Pitanguy's techniques. For the many who cannot pay that small amount, the fee is waived.

One of the medical residents said, "We have middle-class people who try to sneak in. If they're willing to wait like everyone else, we'll eventually get around to them."

Regina was at the clinic because she had her breasts injected with silicone by one of the back alley practitioners who have sprung up to take advantage of the perfection craze which is sweeping Rio De Janeiro. His technique left her breasts with a lumpy appearance and she had come to Holy House to have the damage repaired.

More typical may be Eliza, a six-year-old who lives six hours away. Eliza was born with a hairy brown growth on her face. Dr. Pitanguy said he could make her beautiful.

Maria's case is far more severe. Six years ago she was mopping a factory floor with gasoline when she was accidentally burned. Her nose and eyelids were burned away. So much skin was burned off of her face that her bones could be seen pushing through what remained of her face. On an earlier visit to Holy House, skin from her arm was grafted onto her face to begin forming a new nose.

"What I want is a face," Maria said. "I think in a few more years I may have one."

The waiting list, as can easily be imagined, is long. Some times patients must wait for years to be treated. Burn patients and patients with severe birth defects are moved as quickly as possible to the top of the list.

Most of us carry some type of scar, some type of deformity, some type of birth defect but on the inside of our lives, not on the outside. They may have been caused by accident, they may have been deliberately inflicted (by ourselves or with the connivance of others), but the deformities are just as crippling and debilitating as those on the outside. Maybe more so.

There is a clinic for the healing of these deformities. There is no waiting list. There is no preferential treatment everyone is seen immediately, no matter how minor or how severe the scars. The fee is waived completely no one, regardless of wealth or social standing has to pay for the treatment. It has already been paid in full by someone else.

Do you remember the story of Israel's search for its first king? A tall, good looking man stood in front of the prophet Samuel. He was so physically attractive that the prophet thought, "This must be the man God has chosen!"

But God said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."

Get a face lift or a tummy tuck? If you think it will help. Have reconstructive surgery to correct a disfigurement or defect? By all means. But ultimately it does not matter how beautiful you are on the outside. What counts is how you look on the inside, where God sees everything. That reconstructive surgery can only be performed by His Son.


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 1/3/98

Copyright 1998 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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