By Emma Kennedy, The News-Enterprise
With the addition of a plastic and reconstructive surgeon in September, patients will for the first time be able to complete the full cycle of breast cancer treatment under Hardin Memorial Health.
Doctor Ashley Kerekes officially will come on board with HMH on Aug. 1, but will be working to outfit her Robinbrooke Boulevard clinic and prepare for seeing patients starting a month later.
Kerekes will offer the full spectrum of plastic and reconstructive surgery, which hasn’t been offered before by the organization.
She will be able to do breast reconstructions, skin care, weight loss surgeries and cosmetic surgeries operating primarily out of one of HMH’s off-site clinics.
“I really enjoy being part of people’s journey, and it was the perfect mix to be in the operating room and sort of blend the art and science that is plastic surgery,” Kerekes said.
The surgeon has spent the last few years training in Lexington but said she never thought of plastic surgery as her career path.
She had completed a rotation with orthopedics on the brain, but once she delved into plastic surgery and met with her first breast cancer patient it was decided.
“It was a complete switch of direction,” she said.
“I think breast reconstruction is one of my favorite parts of it … You really get to be there for that patient through the final part of making them feel whole again after this horrible thing has happened to them and I love that.”
Previously, patients could complete everything, including chemotherapy and other cancer treatments, in Hardin County, but breast cancer patients needed to travel to Louisville or elsewhere for reconstructive surgery.
Breast cancer patient and City Attorney D. Dee Shaw finished her reconstructive surgeries in November, traveling back and forth to Louisville for months.
Shaw worked with Dr. Tom Noel, who had introduced her to Kerekes as she shadowed the surgeon in her final months of study, and noted how Hardin County needed the final step in the cycle.
While Shaw has nothing but praise for her reconstructive surgeon, as a working mother, she said it could be taxing to go back and forth to an out-of-county hospital for treatment.
“It was huge that I could stay here for chemo and radiation, so I just did surgery in Louisville, but that’s the only component missing here,” Shaw said.
“It’s hard on the family and your support system … You add that traveling factor and it’s just another element. This whole thing is scary and intimidating in itself, so anything you can do to make it easier is just a blessing.”
Shaw had a hybrid reconstruction, which meant that two different methods were used in her recovery.
Kerekes said though two patients may be eligible for the same reconstruction method, they could have two different outcomes or requirements.
One option is to use existing tissue in the body to move it around and create a breast, while another is to use tissue expander.
The latter requires weekly injections to expand the existing tissue around the breast, which eventually will be replaced with an implant.
“If we do a tissue expander, these patients have to drive every week to get that done and it’s just not acceptable to have these patients drive all over the creation,” Kerekes said.
“These are moms and wives and people that have a life and we need to be able to keep that care for them right here.”
Kerekes also said her office will offer nipple reconstruction, including tattooing.
“Breast cancer in a lot of cases isn’t a death sentence anymore. We’ve come a long way with treatments,” she said.
“I think a lot of women feel vain even thinking about reconstruction at the beginning, so I think it’s important for us as medical providers to help squash that stigma. This is part of making them whole again.”
Improving a patient’s self-confidence is a big aspect of Kerekes’ love of the job, she said.
Outside of cancer reconstruction, she’s worked with patients that have excess skin following extreme weight loss, and with those that have large scars following trauma.
Seeing a patient who lost 200 pounds recently come through the door in a tight-fitting outfit after excess skin surgery was a big moment, Kerekes said, for a patient who previously had only worn baggy clothes.
“That’s been a really powerful thing for me,” she said.
Emma Kennedy can be reached at 270-505-1746 or firstname.lastname@example.org select