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The woman who fights plastic surgeons

CINDY JACKSON lives at a secret address, under a false name, behind an 'armoured' door and barred windows. She says she has had death threats, her telephone has been tapped and her post tampered with.

Ms Jackson is scared because she has taken on the cosmetic surgery industry. She has reported the threats to the police. 'If I had known what I was taking on I don't know if I'd have done it,' she says. 'But I won't be intimidated.'

She says that since she set up an independent consumer organisation, the Cosmetic Surgery Network, three years ago, she has received an average of 200 telephone calls a week from women wanting support and advice. Nearly 4,000 have documented their experiences.

'I tell patients what really works and what doesn't . . . I tell patients what I wish someone had told me,' she said. ''I'd say that only five or six of the 200 surgeons practising cosmetic surgery in this country know what they are doing.'

Last week the Independent on Sunday revealed that one in four surgeons practising cosmetic surgery had no specialist training in plastic surgery. The industry is self-regulated, with varying results.

Ms Jackson found out the hard way. At 38, she has a Barbie-doll body and a Hollywood face. They cost her pounds 30,000, plus five years of worry, 18 surgical procedures - and a series of mistakes. 'I've been through seven cosmetic surgeons. Some were unqualified. About a third of the operations were unsatisfactory.' She did not sue or demand her money back; 'I just wanted it put right.'

Ms Jackson grew up in the United States, on a farm in Ohio. Her sister and her mother were pretty. 'I was not,' she recalled. 'I saw pretty girls getting what they wanted - the dates, all the attention.

'I always did my homework and got good grades but nothing I achieved rated as highly as simply having a pretty face.'

From the age of 11, she fantasised about the 'perfect' body. 'A lot of little girls do this. They have their Barbie dolls and they act out their dreams through their doll.'

London was the place to go to find her dream body. She could not afford it until she was 31 and inherited a large sum of money from her father. She spent it losing the family resemblance.

Beginning with an operation to have her eyes widened, she went on to have liposuction on her jaw line, abdomen, knees and thighs, followed by a facelift, two chemical peels, silicone breast implants, two nose operations, a temple lift, lower eye revision, permanent upper- lip enlargement, more liposuction - the latest ultrasonic type - on hips, thighs and knees, plus 'minor' procedures.

After the first 14 months of surgery, Ms Jackson appeared in a Sun centrespread, prompting a stream of letters mostly from victims of 'unscrupulous' surgeons, Ms Jackson said.

'One woman called me. She'd had her eye-bags removed. The surgeon had taken out so much fat she had no eyelids left. She looked as though she had been in a fire.'

Few were willing to go back for revision work. Suing is a 'losing battle,' Ms Jackson tells them: negligence can be difficult to prove.

One member of Ms Jackson's network - who asked not to be named - tried. She lost all feeling in her cheeks after an unsuccessful facelift. She has a double chin which was not there before, the skin around her eyes has puckered, and one eye was cut higher than the other. 'I look haggard.'

The operation cost her pounds 4,000 and three years of frustration. She failed, she said, because 'none of the surgeons will criticise each other'.

She says the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons told her the surgeon was 'able and popular.' (The association did not reply to several calls made by the Independent on Sunday.)

She did not bother to fill in the General Medical Council's complaints form: 'I've given up. I just want to get on with

my life.'

Last week the GMC said that of 1,300 complaints received between September 1991 and August 1992, none was about poor surgical procedures.

(Photograph omitted)