Timmie Jean Lindsey the First Woman to Receive Breast Implants
Fifty years ago this month, the very first breast implants were placed into a woman who didn't even want them. Timmie Jean Lindsey, who is now an 80-year-old great-grandmother, had been the guinea pig of Frank Gerow and Thomas Cronin, two doctors from Texas who had an idea that would change the face of cosmetic surgery.
Lindsey had dropped out of school and married a carpenter at the young age of 15. After having six children within nine years, she said her husband began to waste his paycheck in bars, so she left him. Soon after, Fred Reyes, a Mexican immigrant who swept Lindsey off her feet, convinced her to have red roses tattooed on each of her breasts. After the relationship ended, Lindsey learned that her low-paid work made her eligible for a dermabrasion treatment at a charity hospital (Jefferson Davis Hospital in Houston) that would remove them. After successful testing, Dr. Cronin asked if she would like to be the recipient of the first silicone implants he and Dr. Gerow developed. At 30, Lindsey had never really been self-conscious of her breasts, and was more concerned about her “Dumbo” ears, as she called them, so Dr. Cronin said he would pin them back and do the breast augmentation procedure for free. She agreed to the procedures, and her B cup magically blossomed to a full C.
"I got a lot more attention from men on the streets."
At the time of Lindsey's procedure, other methods of breast augmentation had been unsuccessful. They included paraffin injections, ground rubber, glass balls, ivory, sponges, ox cartilage and gutta-percha. Silicone had been injected into breasts before, but never within a protective sac. The idea came to Dr. Gerow when he went to the blood bank. Liquids were put into plastic bags instead of bottles, and he realized a bag full of blood had softness similar to a human breast. Around the same time, Dr. Cronin traveled to New Orleans to a plastic surgery meeting, and Thomas Biggs, a former resident of his, informed him of a company's new product that had little body reaction and could be made into a variety of thicknesses. From this information, the idea for the implant was born. A prototype was created and tested on a dog named Esmeralda, and not long after, on Timmie Jean Lindsey.
After the procedure, Lindsey thought they came out perfect: “soft and just like real breasts.” She didn't tell most family or friends about her procedure, but said she got a lot more attention from men on the streets.
Ten years after the procedure, she did experience some pain and hardening with the implants, which is a risk that is still rare, but common with the implants of today. She admits they are now saggier than she expected they would be at age 80, but overall, she would not consider having them removed, and she thinks it is “awesome” to have been the first to receive them.
Breast augmentation surgery has come a long way since that first procedure in 1962. Last year, over 300,000 breast augmentation surgeries were performed in the U.S. alone, and it was the most popular cosmetic procedure, followed by nose reshaping and liposuction, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Allergan, Mentor and Sientra have since manufactured FDA-approved silicone gel-filled implants. There are now different types of implants like the furry Brazilian breast implant and the recently popular “gummy bear” implant, and new techniques have been developed that cause less damage to breast tissue and nerve endings. That first procedure has since inspired breast reconstruction, breast reductions and breast lift procedures, and has made millions of women across the globe more confident about their bodies.