US gets overexcited by 83-year-old's breast op

Great-grandmother's cosmetic enhancement provokes national debate

Los Angeles

With 12 grandchildren, and 13 great-grandchildren, 83-year-old Marie Kolstad is used to welcoming bouncy new arrivals into her life. So it seemed only natural for her to speak freely with the newspaper reporter who called to ask about her recent decision to acquire a pair of silicone breast implants.

Five days, thousands of column inches, and at least two TV appearances later, the energetic senior citizen finds herself at the centre of a snowballing public debate. To some, she is a poster girl for the excesses of modern vanity; to others, living proof that you're never too old to make the most out of life.

Either way, Ms Kolstad seems to have few regrets about her sudden notoriety. Speaking from her home in the cosmetic surgery Mecca of Orange County, Southern California, she told ABC News that she "didn't think it was a big deal" to spend $8,000 (£5,000) on the three-hour operation. "This seemed like a simple way to go," she declared.

A full-time property manager, whose 32A bosom relaxed into a size 36C during middle age, Ms Kolstad has been widowed for 10 years. However, she insisted that she did not go under the knife because it might improve her chances of finding a new romantic partner.

Instead, she claimed that she took the plunge because she wanted her children to feel proud of her appearance. "My mother lived a long time, and I'm just taking it for granted that that will happen to me."

At her age, she said, "your breasts go in one direction and your brain goes in another". She added: "Physically, I'm in good health, and I just feel like, why not take advantage of it?"

Ms Kolstad's procedure, which took place in July, was first reported by the New York Times on Tuesday. Since then, it has been dissected by countless local, national and international news outlets, and become a staple of watercooler conversation about the merits (or otherwise) of growing old gracefully.

Though 83-year-old "boob-job" patients may seem out of the ordinary, she in fact highlights a growing trend: at a time when most of their peers are acquiring new hips, knees and dentures, a rapidly increasing number of affluent US pensioners are splashing out on surgical procedures to improve their appearance.

Figures from the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery show that there were more than 80,000 cosmetic surgeries carried out on patients aged over 65 last year. Most involved facelifts and eyelid improvements. But the total includes more than 3,000 breast lifts, and another 2,500 breast augmentations.

Patients in their seventies, eighties and even nineties have been going under the knife, sometimes for operations that require general anaesthetic. With little research on the safety of performing relatively invasive cosmetic surgery on much older patients, there are growing concerns that private doctors may be taking unnecessary risks.

"It's one of those things that has crept up on us, and I think, as usual, we've embraced the technology before we've really embraced the ethical questions and dimensions," said Harriet A Washington, the author of two books on medical ethics. Surgeons anxious to green-light profitable procedures may overlook threats they pose to sufferers of conditions such as osteoporosis, diabetes and heart disease.

Most doctors argue that there is no such thing as a "normal" pensioner and say decisions about such operations should be taken after a thorough evaluation of the physical condition of the prospective patient. Some well-preserved 80-year-olds can be in better shape than men and women a couple of decades younger.

As for MS Kolstad, she continues to endorse the benefits of going under the knife. And she insisted to reporters that her late husband, a building contractor who, alas, never benefited from her reinvigorated bosom, would have been supportive of her choice to have the operation.

"Any kind of plastic surgery is expensive, but now I am free and don't have as many obligations," she said. "I don't know how long I'll live, but it's something I did in my lifetime that was my choice and I am pleased."

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