“I remember I just started crying and saying ‘what is happening to me? this is not me, I don’t know who I am anymore’.”
It was her most recent visit to Emergency that Donlan says everything finally clicked.
“I was sitting in the waiting room and started looking up all my other symptoms online; the Hashimoto’s, the fatigue, the constantly red eyes, and then breast implant illness came up.
“As I was reading through this list of symptoms I remember feeling faint, because I was in my mind just thinking ‘check, check, check’ and there was like 25 (symptoms).”
When she was finally seen by a doctor, Donlan asked him if he knew anything about breast implant illness.
“He said he was not legally allowed to tell me, because its’ not a recognised illness,” she says.
“I felt like I was part of a conspiracy theory, because nobody would help me. So I said ‘I’m not leaving until you give me an answer, and so I asked him: ‘what would you tell me to do if I was your daughter?’ and he said, ‘I’d probably tell you to get them (the implants) taken out’.”
While certain textured breast implants – including Donlan’s - have been recalled due to an increased risk of Breast-Implant-Associated Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma, or BIA ALCL, the medical industry denies the existence of breast implant illness despite thousands of women giving anecdotal evidence to the contrary.
A number of research papers have been published citing no link between symptoms of BII and silicone implants, but considering many of the authors themselves are in the plastic surgery business – the same industry which would face profound legal and financial ramifications if the illness was recognised – the question of true impartiality remains.
Sufferers of the unacknowledged condition have turned to Facebook communities to share their experiences and symptoms, many reporting a reduction and, in some cases, a complete disappearance of symptoms following the removal of their implants. The overwhelming mood, however, is of frustration at the medical community’s lack of acknowledgment or significant research into the issue.
“There is a lot of controversy around Breast Implant Illness because the medical community has done many exhaustive studies in the past which all have shown no link in silicone breast implants causing medical issues,” says Dr. T. Y. Steven Ip, who performs both breast augmentation and explant surgery at his Beverley Hills clinic.
“On the other hand, you have thousands of women coming forward saying otherwise and many saying doctors aren’t listening to them or are treating them like they are crazy.
“The FDA is doing research to look deeper into BII, but until their results are published, the medical community is wary about recognizing the condition.”
Last month the US plastic surgeon, who removed Donlan’s breast implants earlier this year, said he treated every patient’s concerns individually.
“Breast implants are a foreign body, so being a foreign body they can have problems like infection, scar formation, seromas, etc,” he explains. “When patients have confounding medical issues, it can make the issue worse and add additional stress, which further exasperates their medical issues.”
Statistics compiled by the Australasian College of Cosmetic Surgery show that in Australia, about 20,000 breast augmentation procedures are done each year.
This number continues to rise each year, but there’s also a growing trend for their removal, particularly among health-conscious thirty-something women.
For personal trainer Cassey Maynard, undergoing an explant has had a profound impact both mentally and physically.
The Sydney-based fitness identity underwent the first of two augmentations while working in Dubai as an air hostess in her early 20s and had them removed last year.
“I was happy with them (the implants) for years, but when I broke onto the fitness industry and started to go down more of the health and wellness path - especially when I started meditating and getting more in touch with myself and in my body - it would just pop up in my head things like ‘what happens if I get pregnant, what happens if something goes wrong, do I get them replaced every 10 years?’”
“There were all these questions, but it was about a couple of months before I actually got them removed that one had physically shifted, and it just affected me so much mentally physically. I felt physically sick from it, and eventually I couldn’t get it out of my head that it wasn’t right.”
For the first time since her augmentation 11 years prior, Maynard’s most recent blood tests came back completely normal. “I didn’t have any deficiencies whereas I used to constantly battle with low iron and low vitamins and minerals,” she says.
“My energy levels have been way better, too and brain fog was a big thing for me, not being able to concentrate for long periods of time.”
Maynard says despite her initial trepidation ahead of the surgery, almost a year later she has no regrets.
“My whole body-image has changed,” she says. “I love my boobs and can’t believe I had an issue with them previously.
“They’re a little bit floppy, but for a 37 they’re probably exactly where they’re meant to be. But I’ve just got so much more love for my body now, and acceptance.”