Transcript of Paula Zahn Covering RSD

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Transcript of Paula Zahn Covering RSD
Mon, 02-06-2006 - 3:15pm
Transcript of an Interview with Mary Nissenson conducted by Paula Zahn

A Life Changed by Cosmetic Surgery

ZAHN: And there is a lot more ahead in this half hour coming to our
busy control room, including the shocking story of what happened to this
beautiful anchorwoman, who went in for what she thought was going to be
routine surgery.

Also, what is the world's first face transplant patient saying about
her challenge? She's giving her first U.S. interview, and we'll share
that with you.

And then a little bit later on, some amazing video. What went wrong on
the set of "All My Children."

Surgery, let's face it, can be pretty darn scary. You just never know.
But the truth is, for most procedures, the chance of something going
wrong is quite small. Face-lifts, for example. Well over 100,000
Americans a year take that risk, and most probably worry about the money
they're spending, or maybe if they're being too vain, not if their world
might come crashing down on them, as it did for award- winning TV anchor
and reporter Mary Nissenson.


MARY NISSENSON: From the second I opened my eyes, the agony was so
extreme, so excruciating. I wanted to kill myself that second. If somebody
handed me a gun, I would have used it.

ZAHN: A 24-hour journey from the top of the world to the depths of

NISSENSON: Good morning. It's Friday, August 9th.

ZAHN: At 42, she was a veteran TV reporter and award-winning
documentary filmmaker.

NISSENSON: Hello, I'm Mary Nissenson.

ZAHN: Professionally, she was reaching her peak. Personally, she was
the happiest she had ever been: A newlywed. She and her husband were
about to start a family. But she says there was one thing holding her back.

NISSENSON: I got very hung up on this concept that at 42, maybe I was
going to look more like a grandmother than a mother. Underneath all of
that was this fear that if I let myself age naturally, this handsome
young husband of mine would stray.

ZAHN: There was also the added incentive of looking younger on TV. And
that career in television, 21 years of experience in medical
documentaries, was helpful as Mary researched her doctor's credentials, the
potential pitfalls and complications of her face- lift.

NISSENSON: I did tons of research. I asked him all the questions you're
supposed to ask. All of them.

ZAHN: But despite all that, something went terribly wrong. She knew it
as soon as she woke up from the surgery.

NISSENSON: I felt like someone had put a skullcap on my head. It is
like they were turning the screws and tightening it. I could practically
feel my bones being crushed. I was so exquisitely sensitive to light and
to sound. The sound of a piece of candy being unwrapped would set off a
near seizure.

ZAHN: In most cases, patients are off painkillers and back to their
normal lives about two weeks after a face-lift. But for Mary, it was quite
different. Weeks passed, and despite the support of her husband and
friends, Mary became a prisoner to her pain, spending day after day at
home in a dark, silent room.

Ironically, she says that she loved the way the face-lift looked, but
she was unable to work, or even leave her home. She begged her surgeon
for help.

NISSENSON: I went in and told him the pain medicine he had given me
wasn't enough anymore. And actually, he started yelling at me. I shouldn't
still be taking the pain medicine, I was going to grow dependent on it,
blah, blah, blah. And I started weeping.

ZAHN: Two months after the surgery, she says the pain was as bad as
ever, and she still didn't know why.

NISSENSON: I seem to be having more of the migraine-related pain.

ZAHN: Specialists at last provided an answer. A little known nervous
system reaction called reflex sympathetic dystrophy, or RSD. Dr. Tim
Lubenow, director of the Pain Center at Rush University Medical Center in
Chicago didn't perform her surgery, but is Mary's doctor.

DR. TIMOTHY LUBENOW, PAIN SPECIALIST: This is a condition that more
often would affect an extremity, like an arm or a leg, but it can involve
the head and face, as it has in Mary's condition.

ZAHN: RSD is something of a medical mystery. It is impossible to know
just how many patients may suffer from it. It can happen after a minor
trauma or surgery of any kind, even something as routine as getting a
tooth pulled. There is some evidence that RSD can be treated if diagnosed
immediately. But for Mary, diagnosis came two months after her
face-lift, and doctors still don't know what causes it.

NISSENSON: That's when in the beginning, I was hoping that it was all
just part of the recovery process. But then, the days and weeks went on.

ZAHN: RSD is so rare in the face that some plastic surgeons are
completely unaware of it and never even mention it to their patients.

Dr. Alan Gold is a plastic surgeon and associate professor of surgery
at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University.

DR. ALAN GOLD, PLASTIC SURGEON: Such an uncommon occurrence, certainly
even more uncommon after elective cosmetic surgery.

ZAHN: So uncommon that Dr. Gold has never even mentioned the
possibility of RSD to any of his patients. And neither the American Society for
Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, nor the American Society of Plastic Surgeons
recommend that doctors mention it at all.

GOLD: It's that uncommon. Not predictable, and not preventable.

ZAHN: Not predictable, not preventable, and in some cases incurable.

(on camera): When did you reach your lowest point?

NISSENSON: When they finally told me, they said, look, if it were going
to get better, it would have by now. And we have done some tests. And
it appears the damage is quite permanent.

So I took too many pills, and then I got into bed, not just hoping,
expecting to die. And fortunately, I was an idiot and didn't realize that
I was already on so much medication that to kill myself, I would have
had to take four or five times what I took.

ZAHN: So you had built up a resistance to this stuff over a period of

NISSENSON: Right. So the next morning, I most unhappily opened my eyes

ZAHN: Mary survived the suicide attempt. Her marriage didn't. In
addition to RSD, Mary says she suffers from nerve entrapment and cluster
migraines, both conditions Mary says began after the surgery.

Mary's plastic surgeon has denied any wrongdoing, and Mary initiated a
medical malpractice lawsuit against her surgeon, but later dropped the

Alone and in pain, Mary says her only hope was a daily diet of powerful
prescription drugs, under the constant supervision of a pain

NISSENSON: During the course of the day, 90 milligrams of morphine
every four hours, 12 pills just starting off in the morning. Another
collectively probably 30, 35 pills. Then, depending on how bad things are,
intramuscular injects. It's a lot of meds. If you had it, were in a car
accident, and you were taken to the hospital, they would give you in the
emergency room probably 15 milligrams of morphine to start. OK, so I
take 90 four times a day.

ZAHN: And Mary says her medical insurance doesn't cover pain resulting
from cosmetic surgery. It was an elective procedure. So the price of
every pill, every shot, every doctor's visit comes from Mary's savings.

Today, she lives on her disability insurance and some money from her
jewelry business.

But Mary has learned to cope. Ten years after that fateful surgery,
Mary has proven that she is a survivor.

NISSENSON: The best thing about the human spirit is that it is
incredibly resilient, and you can survive. You can survive almost anything.


ZAHN: And we wanted to remind you that the vast majority of plastic
surgeries go smoothly. Again, what happened to Mary is rare, but that
doesn't mean you shouldn't shop carefully for a doctor who is
board-certified in plastic surgery.

"Until a cure is found, the war is not over. And so, I must continue to fight."