Eric M. Jablonka, MD, FACS
Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery, SJ Plastic Surgery
When Dr. Eric Jablonka arrived in Hampton Roads last year, he brought with him an important new surgical option for women who have undergone surgery for either the treatment or prevention of breast cancer.
Dr. Jablonka has advanced fellowship training in microvascular free-flap breast reconstruction, which transfers excess tissue from another part of a patient’s body to the chest to rebuild a breast. The complex transplantation procedure creates breasts that look and feel natural while avoiding the need for implants.
Since co-founding SJ Plastic Surgery in May 2022, Dr. Jablonka has performed more than 65 free-flaps for women seeking breast reconstruction after breast cancer surgery. He has done more than 200 free-flaps in his career to date.
“A lot of women want breast reconstruction without requiring breast implants,” Dr. Jablonka says. “When compared to implant reconstruction, free-flap breast reconstruction tends to require fewer procedures, carries lower rates of complications, lower reconstructive failure rates and fewer office visits.”
Dr. Jablonka most commonly performs DIEP flap surgery, a type of free-flap surgery which removes a portion of skin, fat and blood vessels from the lower abdomen – tissue typically discarded during a “tummy tuck.” Surgeons then reattach those blood vessels to arteries and veins in the chest, using special magnifying glasses and sutures thinner than the width of a human hair.
The painstaking procedure can take between 8 to 10 hours in bilateral cases. Dr. Jablonka follows a pre-operative plan guided by CT images of blood vessels that helps guide surgical dissection. In one recent case, he also transplanted vascularized lymph nodes from a patient’s groin to her armpit to relieve painful left-arm lymphedema.
“It all requires really fine work,” he relates. “The challenge is to not injure the fine perforating blood vessels, which are very delicate.”
Dr. Jablonka’s interest in reconstructive surgery began when he shadowed an ENT specialist and facial plastic surgeon during a summer break from college at the University of Rochester, where he started as a biomedical engineering major.
“The physician I shadowed performed sinus surgery on my dad and brother, and I could see firsthand the impact he was having on patients’ lives,” he recalls. “Later, I loved the idea of being able to rebuild the body after a cancer surgery or trauma.”
After graduating from the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo, Dr. Jablonka did a six-year Integrated Plastic Surgery Residency at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. He met his current partner, Dr. Alexander Sailon, at Mount Sinai.
Dr. Jablonka completed both a Microvascular Reconstructive Surgery Fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania and a Craniomaxillofacial Surgery Fellowship at Stanford University, where he was a Clinical Instructor.
After three years as an Assistant Professor in Plastic Surgery at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Jablonka and his wife moved to Virginia Beach so he and Dr. Sailon could start SJ Plastic Surgery. They later added two additional physician partners, Dr. Richard Rosenblum and Dr. Alexandra Tilt.
Today, Dr. Jablonka does a few cosmetic procedures but mainly partners with a multi-disciplinary team of physicians treating breast cancer patients at Sentara Princess Anne Hospital. He also operates at Chesapeake Regional Medical Center and plans to become a Community Faculty Member at Eastern Virginia Medical School.
Named a Castle Connolly Top Doctor in 2022, Dr. Jablonka has focused his published research and presentations on improving the patient experience during free-flap breast reconstruction, which he hopes to convert from an inpatient stay to an outpatient procedure. His patients now often go home after a day or two.
“My job,” he says, “is to help patients feel whole again, and as quickly as possible.”