December 18, 2017

Expert Care: Riverside Specialty Practice Gives Local Women Access to a Fellowship-trained Breast Reconstruction Surgeon

Victoria McCarthy, RN (left) and Claude A. Hawkins, MD, FACS (center) discuss breast reconstruction with a patient.

Women who opt for breast reconstruction after battling cancer can turn with confidence to Riverside Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery Specialists in Newport News, now home to a board certified plastic surgeon with additional fellowship training in breast reconstruction.

The small practice is built around Claude A. Hawkins, MD, FACS, and his nurse Victoria McCarthy, RN. In close consultation with other Riverside specialists, Hawkins offers implant-based and autologous tissue reconstructions – the latter via a TRAM Flap or Latissimus Dorsi Flap procedure – in a caring and supportive environment.

“Breast reconstruction is not ever a one-size-fits-all specialty,” he says. “It really requires close scrutiny of each patient’s individual life situation, aesthetic goals and overall health, followed by precise attention to detail every step of the way.”

Hawkins, a retired U.S. Air Force Colonel, brings extensive operating room experience to Hampton Roads, including two tours as a reconstructive surgeon in Afghanistan. His advanced training culminated in a 12-month fellowship in Breast Reconstruction and Aesthetic Surgery at Georgetown University Hospital, which he completed just prior to his 2014 arrival at Riverside.

Under the late Dr. Scott Spear, Founding Chair of Georgetown’s Department of Plastic Surgery and Past President of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, Hawkins studied a wide variety of basic and complex reconstructive techniques. He left with a highly-specialized layer of knowledge, well beyond his previous fellowship in Plastic and Reconstructive Plastic Surgery at Oregon Health and Science University.

“Additional specialty training will improve any surgeon’s ability to select and perform the best type of reconstruction for each patient,” Hawkins notes.

Most of Riverside’s breast reconstruction patients are cancer survivors, although a subset come with congenital anomalies such as tuberous breast deformity or severe asymmetry. Hawkins works with women of all ages, from 19 to well past 70. Advances in pre- and post-operative care and anesthesia have rendered procedures safer and more effective for a wider range of patients. He is affiliated with Riverside hospitals and surgery centers in Newport News, Hampton, Williamsburg and Gloucester.

Hawkins is careful to cover all reconstructive options at a patient’s earliest appointments, including choosing external prosthetics over any type of surgery. He also is upfront about what can be a lengthy, multi-step treatment and recovery process. Together with Nurse McCarthy, he steers and reassures his patients through any highs, lows or complications they might experience along the way.

“Guiding women to the right solution takes time, but it is so fulfilling,” he says. “A lot of cancer survivors don’t even realize that there are answers to that question of, ‘Will I feel whole again?’ Our goal is to create breasts that appear as natural and symmetrical as possible, so a woman can begin to feel comfortable with her body again. In the end, a vast majority of our patients experience that.”

About 80 percent of Riverside’s patients opt for implant-based reconstructions, most with silicone implants. Compared to autologous tissue reconstruction, the approach requires significantly shorter hospital stays and recovery time, often important considerations for women with families and jobs.

While soft tissue reconstructions have historically delivered superior outcomes, several improvements in implant-based surgery have leveled the playing field. Implant designs and materials have continued to evolve, while new fat-grafting techniques can add attractive contouring. Surgeons also can utilize Acellular Dermal Matrix, a material constructed from the collagen layer of cadaver skin, to create strong and bioresorbable internal anchors for implants.

“We really have begun to see equivalency of results, which has been a benefit to so many women,” Hawkins says.

Claude A. Hawkins, MD, FACS and his nurse Victoria McCarthy, RN

Still, autologous reconstruction remains the best choice for most patients who have undergone radiation therapy, as complications may arise from placing implants in irradiated fields. Those patients tend to select a TRAM Flap procedure, which moves a portion of the transverse rectus abdominis muscle, along with skin, fat and blood vessels, to rebuild breasts. The technique also offers some abdominal contouring, although it is not a cosmetic surgery and may not result in ideal scar placement.

A Latissimus Dorsi Flap Reconstruction, meanwhile, uses a smaller oval of tissue dissected from a patient’s back, near the shoulder blade. That can be a good option for women who have had a partial mastectomy, or lumpectomy, that caused a “dented” area of a breast, Hawkins states: “We are able to reshape those deformities quite effectively with that more limited amount of tissue.”

Medical expertise and technology are just part of the Riverside practice. McCarthy, who has worked with Dr. Hawkins for more than two years, says the two also emphasize an encouraging bedside manner.  She decided to become a nurse after working as a receptionist in an oncology department, where she scheduled chemotherapy appointments for nervous patients.

“I wanted to help women going through those very tough times,” she recalls. “Now, I get to see our patients so excited and confident about their results – maybe walking in wearing a shirt they thought they’d never wear again, with a big smile. It is just extremely rewarding.”

Dr. Hawkins, she adds, “has so much empathy for his patients. He sits down with them for as long as they need, listens to them, explains all their options, asks for their opinions and consults with other doctors whenever necessary.”

Beyond breast reconstruction, Riverside Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Specialists also provides multiple other reconstructive and, cosmetic procedures. “No matter what they need, our patients are always at the heart of everything we do here,” Hawkins says. “We want them to feel like they’re part of a family.”

Riverside Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery Specialists is located at 12200 Warwick Boulevard in Newport News.

To reach the practice, call (757) 534-6380. Or, visit the website at riversideonline.com/hawkins