The procedure transplants the women's own fatty tissue from the abdomen to reconstruct the breast without sacrificing the abdominal muscles, as many surgeries do.
When Sally Viviette was diagnosed with breast cancer, she needed a mastectomy and worried reconstruction would affect her career.
"As an equine vet, my job requires a lot of strength, but more importantly, in my hobbies and horseback riding, the potential loss of abdominal strength or shoulder strength from the different flaps they do was not so much an option for me," Viviette said.
Her options included implants or breast reconstruction. In many cases, doctors take tissue from the patient's abdomen and sacrifice the abdominal muscle to keep a blood supply to the reconstructed breast.
"The way I ride requires a lot of abdominal strength," Vivette said. "I ride horses, and I really didn't want to risk not having that there for me."
Vivette was happy to learn that Duke Surgeon Michael Zenn had a new option -- a breast reconstruction called diep flap. It avoids the abdominal muscle and offers the side benefit of a slight tummy tuck.
"So I can take the lower abdominals from a patient that normally we might throw away during a tummy tuck and use it for reconstruction just by keeping the blood vessels attached to that tissue and transferring it as a tissue transfer and use a microscope to reattach blood vessels somewhat like an organ transplant," Dr. Zenn explained.
The diep breast reconstruction procedure has only been around for a couple of years. In fact, there's only a few doctors in the country who can do it, including ones at Duke.
"And it is an advantage to have your own natural tissues because they will age naturally," Zenn said. "So over time, the chances of needing more and more procedures is actually dramatically reduced."
Since the surgery, Vivette in not only happy with the natural result, but also the fact that she can still ride her horses.