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Up until recently, New Mexico women had limited options for breast reconstruction, forcing some doctors to send their patients out of state.  Now, a partnership between Lovelace Women's Hospital and two local surgeons is opening doors for breast cancer patients. Heather Mills reports.

"You never think that word is going to be associated with your name. It's not going to happen to me," said Rita Erickson. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in July of 2011. A month later, she had a mastectomy, and simultaneously, received an implant.

But, there were complications and she had to have the implant removed. She described, "You could actually poke and feel the implant there."

So, she went looking for other reconstructive options and came across DIEP. "It's called the DIEP flap. It stands for Deep Inferior Epigastric Perforator," explained Dr. Jennifer Chan.

Here’s how it works: surgeons construct a breast using excess skin and fat from the abdomen.

Dr. Chan described the procedure, "We will take that tissue and actually remove it from the body and then we will hook the artery and vein up at the chest area." Dr. Gladys Tsao-Wu added, "When we're attaching the artery to the vein, we're working under a microscope. These vessels are two to three millimeters in diameter."

It's a long surgery, lasting as much as 14 hours. But, the recovery is faster than other options that involve removing parts of the muscle. Dr. Chan said, "In this procedure we're able to leave the muscle intact and therefore hopefully not affect their core strength as much."

That's why Erickson chose it. "The 4th weekend out from surgery I was doing snow-shoeing," she said. "It's really nice to have 2 breasts again."

Doctors say the benefit is a more “natural” textured breast. While there's no chance of tissue rejection; because it's your own tissues; if there isn't enough circulation, some of the tissue could die, meaning the breast could harden or change shape.

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