Fat transfer can help patients look younger

Debbie, who asked ABC7 not to use her last name, says she's always had plenty of energy for work and exercise, but apparently that wasn't the way it looked to everyone.

"I was constantly being told that I looked tired. And no matter how much sleep you get, if you're continually being told that you're tired, you want to try to figure out a way to deal with it," said Debbie.

What she did was decide on cosmetic work, specifically an increasingly popular technique, used to augment her cheek bones and eye area.

"The volume of fat in here is staying very nicely," said plastic surgeon Randall Weil, M.D.

Weil says the technique, known as fat transfer, has advantages over artificial fillers, which stay in the body temporarily.

"The techniques have evolved such that the way the fat is placed, the way the fat is harvested, that we're able to have more of the fat stay," said Weil. "There is almost no one who doesn't have enough fat for a fat transfer."

First, the fat is collected from the patient's stomach. Then, a technician separates the fat cells. Weil says a key is reducing the fat into smaller and smaller syringes because newer strategies require placing it into multiple targeted areas around the face where it's most likely to be integrated into the body.

"The fat actually becomes what we say, vascularized. So, your own blood vessels will grow into the fat and it will become part of you again in a new spot," said Weil.

Over the next hour, Weil makes a series of injections, building layers of fat along the natural scaffolding of the patient's tissue. He says the fat transfer can also be used to augment lips or fill smile lines. Still, he says it can take several months to learn what the permanent effects will be.

"I'd say conservative figure is usually 30-40 percent of the fat will stay," said Weil.

Debbie said the fat injections, combined with a separate procedure to smooth her jaw line, gave her the rejuvenated look she was hoping for.

"I think the way I look fits the lifestyle that I have," said Debbie.

Since the fat comes from the patient's own body, Weil says there's little chance of rejection. A typical facial procedure runs between $2,500 to $3,500 and is most often not covered by insurance.

Written and produced by Tim Didion

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