When Salmon Arm’s Karissa Pukas decided to get breast implants in 2013, she had no inkling of what horrors the next five years would hold.
At 22, her thought was that bigger breasts would improve her looks – give her more confidence.
At 28, her recent experience has changed that view: “From no boobs, to big boobs, to no boobs. You think you will wear different clothes… I think everyone has a notion the grass is always greener. There are great things about small boobs, great things about big boobs. The biggest thing is about being happy about how you naturally are.”
In 2013, Pukas was already an Internet sensation, with hundreds of thousands of people tuning in to her YouTube channel, following her on Facebook and on Instagram.
Her fame had begun simply enough.
Living in Vancouver and taking a fashion merchandising program at the Blanche MacDonald Centre, she decided she wanted to meet people. And meet people she did. She began making fashion videos and soon expanded into makeup. But it was her style – engaging, unpretentious, unassuming, that seemed to draw followers.
“I think it’s a combination of right time, right kind of things needed and being approachable,” she said in a 2015 interview with the Observer. “I think a lot of women doing what I do come across a little bit robotic or too proper… I am unapologetically myself.”
When her lease on her apartment ran out, she moved to Australia, a place she’d always dreamed of living, to be with her boyfriend who she’d met when they both worked at Silver Star Mountain. Life was good.
Pukas did her research before committing to surgery. Silicone had been discontinued for implants in the ’90s due to problems, and now ‘gummies’ or ‘gummy bear’ implants, textured rather than smooth, were said to be a good choice.
The surgery went well and she was pleased with her decision, despite having back pain as her body adjusted to its new proportions.
But about six months after the operation, she began feeling fatigued constantly.
Then came anxiety. Depression.
She delved into her life, trying to understand why the changes. A doctor said ‘stress,’ but she couldn’t see how her life was any more stressful than it had been a year earlier. Not to mention, health and fitness had always been a top priority for her. She stayed fit, ate well.
Then she developed “nasty body odor. A metallic, acidic stink, predominantly on the left side.”
Even after a shower where she would scrub and scrub, she would come out and her boyfriend would notice that she would still “stink.”
She developed night sweats, where she would wake up drenched and shivering.
She went to a naturopath, but symptoms continued.
In 2016 she returned to Canada and things continued to get worse. She began suffering from chronic joint pain.
“My hip would wake me up – that’s not normal for a 26-year-old.”
Then came problems with food intolerance, recurring diarrhea, daily. She began having menstrual periods multiple times per month. She had adult acne, heart palpitations, strange-smelling urine, brain fog and trouble concentrating.
Pukas saw several doctors and was given several tests. She was dismissed, told there was nothing wrong with her. She was never asked if she had a foreign object in her body, nor did she make the connection.
“I think the biggest frustration for me, it was almost likened to me being a hypochondriac. I knew this was not right, it was not how I should be feeling.”
Still, she managed to maintain her presence online. Although she no longer wanted to go out of her house because of all her health problems, she kept up her Youtube channel. She would try to carry on as usual, but sometimes she was brutally honest. In response to a video talking about all her digestion problems, a couple of followers mentioned breast implant disease.
Pukas didn’t pay much attention, at least not at first.
“Honestly, when I first heard that, I almost got offended. How would it be my implants?”
Although reluctant to consider the implants, the similarities with what other women were saying on the Internet was uncanny.
“It was absolutely unbelievable, … word for word.”
She eventually arrived at the decision to have her implants removed, and chose a California plastic surgeon, Dr. H. Jae Chun, who was recommended.
In September of this year, in a video in which Chun provides testimony to the FDA, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, he explains he has been focused solely on breast explants over the past three years. He said the women who come to him, who have saline or silicone implants, usually have neurological or connective tissue disorder symptoms.
Such symptoms are well-documented in implant manufacturers’ own documentation and brochures, yet “these women are routinely told there’s nothing wrong with them, they’re perfectly fine and healthy, it’s all in their minds…,” he said. “They’re often told breast implants are the most studied medical device ever and they have been definitely proven to be perfectly safe.”
That view has been expressed by various manufacturers, Chun said, so it disseminates down to plastic surgeons and other specialists and primary care physicians. He notes that the incidence of problems reported in core studies range anywhere from 1.4 to two per cent. However, manufacturers have offered a rebuttal, stating a panel of expert scientists has found the evidence linking neurological diseases to breast implants is insufficient or flawed.
Chun says that’s because the scientists realize the study size required would be very large.
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Pukas went ahead with her explant in April of this year – which involved removing the scar capsule as well as the implant – and describes the change as shockingly immediate. The whites of her eyes were suddenly white. The brain fog began to lift.
“It’s been a night and day change with my health and how it’s turned around.”
She explains that the symptoms came down to the fact her body was fighting itself, trying to get rid of the implant.
“It has nothing to do with who put that implant in, it’s how your body’s immune system reacts to that implant.”
And she now feels great mentally.
“The crazy thing is, after the explant, I feel so much better about myself, so much sexier, so much better than I did with the implants. My body is one that works, it’s healthy.”
Her purpose in talking about her experience is not intended to incite panic or to point fingers. It’s for information, she emphasizes, calling herself pro-information, not anti-plastic surgery.
“I want women to be aware it is a possibility from implants… “It’s an important conversation. Often women’s health gets pushed aside.”
Her story is spreading throughout the media, including Cosmopolitan, O (Oprah) Magazine, MSN.com and Yahoo.com. Her YouTube video, “The Truth about Breast Implants - Breast Implant Illness,” detailing her experience, has surpassed half a million views.
“I think it’s important people put their story out there, and the truth. A decision I made at 22 will affect me for the rest of my life. I see the value of what my body can do, not what it looks like. That’s what it’s for. It doesn’t matter what you look like. It’s a shell.”