New doctor joins staff at Whidbey General

A plastic surgeon with a long and distinguished career in cosmetic and reconstructive surgery recently has come out of a very brief retirement to work at Whidbey General Hospital in Coupeville.

Getting Dr. David Slepyan is a major coup for a small, rural hospital district like Whidbey General. He’s the first plastic surgeon the hospital has had and will be on-call for the emergency room, plus he’ll provide a full-range of cosmetic operations.

Hospital CEO Scott Rhine said he’s thrilled to have Slepyan on board. He said getting the plastic surgeon may be the first step in an effort to branch out toward medical services that may be a little more lucrative for the hospital.

Rhine pointed out that there’s a pretty big demand for quality-of-life services like cosmetic surgery, acupuncture and massage therapy. The one thing all these types of services have in common is that government programs and medical insurance don’t usually cover them. So patients will be paying cash.

“We’re trying to find a better balance of the services we are providing so that we aren’t so reliant on government funding,” Rhine said.

The problem with government funding, whether it’s Medicare or Medicaid, is that it doesn’t cover the costs of medical care — and HMOs aren’t much better. The hospital has been very public about this problem and held a well-attended public forum on the issue earlier this summer.

So by providing services that aren’t covered by the government, the hospital might be making some money for a change.

The other benefit, Rhine said, is for patients with acute injuries or other conditions needing reconstructive surgery. The emergency room will be able to call Slepyan in for a person with a dog bite injury, for example, to the face or hand.

Instead of traveling to Seattle, patients can be referred to Slepyan for hand surgery, microsurgery for nerve repair, cleft lip and palate repair, excision of skin cancers, challenging scar deformities and other conditions that require the skilled hand of a plastic surgeon.

Slepyan’s extensive education and career began in New York City, where he attended Cornell University Medical College and researched flash burns extensively. He pursued general surgery at the University of Washington, then did a plastic surgery residency at the University of Miami in the 1970s.

For two years in the Navy, he was the chief of plastic surgery in Portsmouth, Virg. Slepyan studied under Dr. Paul Tessier, an expert in craniofacial and plastic surgery in Paris, and Dr. Harold Kleinert, a hand surgeon in Kentucky. Later, he was the director of the microvascular laboratory in Seattle’s Swedish Hospital before starting his own practice.

While he’s performed facelifts and liposuction on hundreds of rich people, Slepyan said his real passion has been to travel to undeveloped countries — Vietnam, Mexico, Guatamala — with other doctors and perform medical procedures on people who otherwise wouldn’t have access to physicians. A lot of the work he’s done is with kids who have cleft lips or palates.

“It’s a funny business,” he said. “The cosmetic (surgery) pays for the reconstructive.”

That’s not to say he’s not serious about the cosmetic work. He has a state-of-the-art video imaging program that allows him to scan in photos of patients and show them, with the click of a mouse, what a procedure will look like. Most of the procedures, he said, are meant to change the effect gravity has on a person’s body over time.

Yet he cautions that results can be “pretty subtle.” The rule of thumb, he said, is that the procedures can take off “10 to 15 years from a person’s appearance.”

“People need to be realistic,” he said. “If people start seeing things (about their appearance) that aren’t there, end of discussion.”

Slepyan has a lot of experience with most of the cosmetic procedures out there except Botox and laser skin resurfacing — he said chemical peals work better. He does facelifts, liposuction, tummy tucks, scar revision, dermabrasion, eyelid surgery, skin resurfacing, nose and chip reshaping, breast augmentation and implants.

“The whole point of plastic surgery,” he said, “is to make people look better without leaving a trace. If people can tell, you’ve lost the race.”

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