Wendy Lewis profile "The Knife Coach"
By C. Downey © 2005-2009
PlasticSurgery.com Staff Writer
A tall, Nordic blonde in her early 40’s seeking advice about plastic surgeons walked into the office of New York City’s Wendy Lewis, who bills herself as “The Knife Coach.”
The blonde clutched a handful of magazine clippings torn from various women’s publications.
Lewis’ task in life is dispensing the latest knowledge about cosmetic surgery and surgeons to prospective patients who are considering some type of rejuvenation surgery.
But, in this case, she saw the edges of a common red warning flag when she looked at the magazine pages. The women on the page were all lovely, exotic Asians. The tall blonde wanted to find a New York City plastic surgeon who could make her own eyes resemble what she, the blonde, considered the utmost in beauty and exotic appeal -- Asian eyes.
“That was one of the many cases in which I talked a prospective patient out of surgery,” says Lewis. “Those eyes that were her ideal of loveliness just did not fit with the blonde’s face, structure or coloring.”
In another case, the mother of a bride wanted to have a full facelift and a tummy tuck before her daughter’s big wedding which was only several months away. Because she wanted to be put under anesthesia only once, she wanted to find a surgeon who could quickly do both at once. But Lewis patiently explained that both procedures require substantial time for complete, medically-safe healing. Moreover, any surgeon must allow additional time for potential complications after an operation so she suggested that the woman have just one procedure for the present and put the other operation off until after the ceremony. And because wedding pictures are so important and often passed down for generations, would it not make sense to do the facelift first? The mother of the bride agreed and tabled the tummy tuck, which allowed Lewis to start the business at hand: Recommending several plastic surgeons for the woman to interview about her facelift.
Wendy Lewis, now 45, started as a medical matchmaker in 1997 after a 12-year stint as office manager for a New York City plastic surgeon. She claims she became a knife coach because patients and others, even in distant cities, constantly asked for recommendations to good plastic surgeons.
Recalls Lewis: “One very distraught woman was having a difficult time after her mid-facelift had gone awry and asked me to help find a revisionist surgeon to correct it. I searched all over the country and found the team that developed the technique which repairs that botched surgery. A week after her revisionist operation, she called to tell me she was back to her old self. She also suggested I start an impartial consulting service for would-be patients and still sends clients to me today.”
Since, Lewis has taken on the mantle of president, Wendy Lewis & Company and has written, most recently “BEAUTY SECRETS, The Complete Lowdown on Skin, Hair and Body Treatments” and seven other books about plastic and cosmetic surgery. She opened an office in London where she dispenses the same advice and recommendations to Europeans interested in some type of surgical rejuvenation. Additionally, Lewis’s company publishes “Nip and Talk,” a quarterly newsletter about the field of rejuvenation surgery. Her business credo: take no referral fees from the surgeons. Instead, she charges U.S. clients $250 for an hour’s phone consultant, $300 for an hour’s in-person chat while prospective patients in London pony up $300 British pounds sterling for an hour of her time. She sees about 70 U.S. clients a month, and between 100 to 200 European clients yearly in London.
“Wendy Lewis invented a new career for herself by providing the most current, accurate information to her clients about the types of plastic surgery they want and where to get it,” says Barbara Rea, a private R.N. who cares for recovering patients after their surgical rejuvenations. “If a patient goes to see any one of several excellent plastic surgeons, he or she will tell you about the several trees he knows best. Wendy, however, will describe the whole forest.”
Adds Kenneth Beer, M.D., a clinical instructor in dermatology at the University of Miami and, director of the Palm Beach Esthetic Center: “From a cosmetic dermatology point of view, Wendy is invaluable. She seems to know what patients really want in a physician and recommend the ones who are leaders, not just the popular ones.”
To keep abreast of rapidly changing times, Lewis subscribes to the plastic and cosmetic surgery medical journals and attends the major plastic surgery meetings and seminars in the U.S. and Europe. Or, if a doctor has a new and promising procedure, she calls and chats with him about it and how patients are responding.
“Only seven years ago, there was one way plastic surgeons did eyelids,” Lewis says. “Now there are about ten. Very few injectibles were available and we were just starting to hear about liposuction which, incidentally, was also done only one way.”
Additionally, no television programs about plastic surgery were being aired seven years ago while most people who had a plastic surgery procedure located the practitioner by asking another medical provider, hairdressers, or calling physicians who were most recently quoted in the current issue of Cosmo or Ladies Home Journal.
“But today, cosmetic and plastic surgery is on the tip of everybody’s tongue,” says Lewis. “And there are many more procedures, technologies and pharmaceuticals one must stay current with. While about $8 billion is spent yearly on cosmetic and plastic surgery, we are at a place where virtually every part of the body can be changed. So people simply want to look younger, longer.”
Says Judith Hellman, M.D., a cosmetic dermatologist in New York City: “Wendy saves time and makes my job easier because her clients come to me knowing they can’t go from pauper to beauty queen in twenty minutes like some television programs would have you believe. Moreover, I don’t have to explain as much about, say, cosmetic fillers or my credentials.”
When a client becomes interested in say, liposuction, Lewis supplies the names of several surgeons who might be a good fit for that person and also provides advice on private duty nurses who help with healing to finding the best concealing makeup for a particular procedure.
She starts each consultation the same way: by handing her client a mirror and asking what bodily or facial feature bothers her. She may also suggest coping tips on juggling the physical and emotional demands of surgery along with those of family, job and social schedules.
“Interviewing eight plastic surgeons about the procedure you want is far too many but signing on with the first is almost always a mistake,” Lewis says. “Even if you like the first surgeon tremendously, go see at least one more.”
She finds many patients go ahead with plastic surgery after thinking about having a surgical rejuvenation for many years and then experiencing a “trigger event.” A typical example: you see someone you haven’t seen for many years and she says you look tired. Or, you feel especially good one morning and somebody asks if you’ve been working extra hard because you look so haggard. Other common trigger events include special occasions like weddings, the 20th and 30th class reunions, milestone birthdays (30, 40, 50, 60 and 65) job changes, divorces, retirements, and being the mother of the bride at an upcoming wedding.
Among the more uncommon triggers events: One woman moving from the east coast to San Francisco figured she should show up in the new ‘hood with a new nose; a woman suffering from the empty nest syndrome and a woman who wanted to make the best use of her time while her husband was away on a fishing trip.
Lewis’ own trigger event? A well-known socialite -- who must, alas, remain nameless -- asked her advice after suffering a botched face lift.
“It’s no mean feat to carve out a successful niche in the ultra competitive world of New York City plastic surgery,” says Elliot Jacobs, M.D., the surgeon who supplied the liposuction and male breast reduction (gynocomastiaplasty) to the top contender for MTV’s “I Want Arnold’s Chest” program.
The Knife Coach herself is no stranger to the seeming magic of surgical rejuvenation. Lewis admits to having Botox®, collagen, Restylane injections®, laser hair removal, peels, microdermabrasion, sclerotherapy and liposuction on the neck, hips, thighs and abdomen plus one complete facelift.
From where she sits, newer trends in plastic surgery include more people in their 20’s who are worried about maintaining their youthful looks and undergoing cosmetic procedures earlier. Among teens, rhinoplasty is the most commonly requested along with breast augmentation. Nonetheless, experts still recommend that teenagers wait until their early 20s for any breast procedures because they can always have a growth spurt. Physicians also say nose surgery should be done on subjects no younger than 16, because of incomplete growth.
In yet another case, a 17-year-old, obsessed with her looks ponied up for an hour’s phone consultation to find a surgeon to perform the following: cheek implants, eyelid surgery, chin reduction and a few other procedures. Lewis talked her out of everything, got the teen’s mother on the phone and urged her to find professional help for the young woman’s feelings of low self-esteem. Three years later, the now 20-year-old woman scheduled another phone consultation and pointed out how she had taken The Knife Coach’s advice and simply outgrown many of the changes she once thought so necessary. But she was still obsessed with her looks, so Lewis negotiated down to minor rhinoplasty and liposuction of the neck.
“Driving the U.S. plastic surgery trend are a couple of things,” Lewis says. “Americans worship celebrities and are influenced by all the surgical rejuvenation programs they see on television. Plus, procedures are quicker, costs more reasonable and recovery times shorter. So patients can get back to their lives and business that much quicker.”
She also sees quite a few mothers dragging in small-chested, teen daughters and talking up various surgical rejuvenations. The trick, according to Lewis, is to get the teenager talking about what changes she wants, if any, because that is where a surgeon will take the conversation during the first consultation.
"People of all ages are more interested in having quick, ‘mini’ procedures that don’t involve much, or any, surgery,” she says. “Moreover, for the surgeons, it’s mostly a cash and carry business.”
And therein lays the paradox. Attracted by an extremely lucrative trade, all type medical practitioners -- even general practitioners and radiologists -- have rushed into the plastic surgery business. So cosmetic surgery can be a minefield, making an informed choice more necessary than ever.
“It’s daunting to find a surgeon with whom you are comfortable with because, in the U.S., there are too many choices,” Lewis says. “In England, things are a bit different: there aren’t enough cosmetic surgeons and doctors used to having their judgment questioned.”
The huge numbers of people – estimated at about ten million for 2005 – having some surgical rejuvenation has caused all type of physicians, both qualified and unqualified, to enter the field.
“A bad surgeon will not do well or go very far with my clients,” she says. “They’re too well informed and ask the right questions.”
Physicians can also benefit from Lewis’s knowledge and experience. She gives a lecture course on what amounts to efficient bedside manners and doctor-patient communication to large professional groups like The American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) and The American Academy of Dermatologists (AAD).
Coming up on Lewis’s radar screen: a new porcine collagen, Evolance, which has been used with good results for years in Europe. She also follows the many expanding uses of Botox® and sees that hair restorations are become a huge hit. Other popular trends will include more minimally-invasive techniques, done more frequently and more ”thread lifts” of the eyebrows, midface, cheeks and jowls. (The thread lift is a quick, procedure that can provide about 80 percent of a facelift’s effects in less than an hour.)
But whatever the procedure, just don’t expect the referrals to include available guys and gals. She doesn’t do that type of matchmaking.