health and beauty
 
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Beverly Hills Plastic Surgery and
the Path of an Unlikely Artist


Over 20 years ago, a teen-aged Anthony Griffin got a crazy, impulsive idea from an Ebony Magazine article he had read. It was a story about Black plastic surgeons. And Griffin, ever the studious teenager with an artistic flair for mixing and recombining his Grandmother's McCall's sewing kits, reached for his parents' phone.

Dr Anthony Griffin
Far off in California, a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon named Pearlman Hicks went about his business. Hicks possesses the thoughtful look of a professional who had paid his dues by finding his own way in medical school and later treating gunshot wounds in Compton as an intern. It was the early 1980's and African Americans like Hicks were stepping up career ladders that had only recently been opened up to persons of color. The problem for Hicks, was that often there was no one else in his shoes who could offer advice. Ebony Magazine had come by asking him questions about what it was like to be one of the few black plastic surgeons. Later, Hicks saw his name featured in the follow-up article.

And now the phone was ringing.

Hicks picked up the phone. It was a teenager from Wisconsin who was looking for precious advice.  Anthony Griffin wanted to know about pursuing a career in plastic surgery. “I spoke with the young man and he asked me plenty of questions about being the only African American board certified plastic surgeon in California (at the time),” recalled Hicks. “I took the call because as a young person, I often wished I had someone to offer me advice.”

For his part, 14-year-old Anthony Griffin was amazed to actually have a real plastic surgeon on the line.

“Here I was, a teenager from Wisconsin actually talking to one of the doctors I read about. And he took my call!” marveled Griffin one recent afternoon in his Beverly Hills office.

As Griffin thanked Hicks for his time and ended the call, a teen impulse condensed into idea that crystallized into a life path bright as a doctor’s lab coat.

The path would eventually lead Griffin to Brown University and USC Medical School, as well as the streets of Lima, Peru and the African countryside. It would wind through downtown Beverly Hills and then accelerate at the speed of light through a Hollywood studio out to millions of television viewers around the world.

Doctor Anthony Griffin, plastic surgeon to the stars, medical mission worker, and cast member of ABC TV’s Extreme Makeover, looks back in wonder.

Operating room
As one of the plastic surgeons featured on Extreme Makeover, Griffin is seen each week by 6 million people and recognized by fans as far removed as Brazil and Eastern Europe. Total strangers in foreign countries see Griffin on the street and wave as if they were greeting a trusted friend.

Such was the case this year in Peru.

“I traveled to Lima earlier this year with Operation Smile,” notes Griffin, in reference to his work with the international medical charity, Operation Smile. People in Lima got a close up look at Griffin along with several dozen other medical professionals brought together by Operation Smile to treat underprivileged patients in Peru who were badly in need of plastic surgery. According to Griffin, Operation Smile teams are composed of 40 medical professionals who travel to a location where they screen about 500 prospective patients and then do procedures on 150-200 people in one week’s time.

So far Griffin has gone on 10 missions with Operation Smile but it was the first one, a trip to Kenya that he recalls most vividly. “The first child from Kenya, after we were done with him, his mother didn’t recognize him,” said Griffin. For Griffin, it is this charitable work with the poor that he terms the “pure practice of medicine” which transforms lives for the better.

Griffin states that the repeated cleft-lip repairs he performed while at the USC prepared him well for the similar surgeries he’s performed in the Third World.
Dr Anthony Griffin


Griffin also counts himself as one of those transformed by Operation Smile, which is also where he
met his wife Belle, a volunteer nurse working on one of the medical missions.

Nowadays, Belle works for the RAND Corporation and spends time as an amateur photographer while Griffin contemplates the effects television celebrity has had on his practice. To hear Griffin describe it, “Extreme Makeover” has given him a “second wind” that has expanded his professional horizons.

“Nowadays, I get calls from all over the world from people who saw me on television who want to come to America so I could work on them. I spend a lot of time on the phone trying to convince many of them that it would be better if they found care closer to home,” Griffin states. “About 20 percent of my patients are from overseas and I’m booked a year in advance.”

Which is a far cry from Griffin’s early days establishing his practice in Beverly Hills in the mid 1990’s. Still proud that he has always managed to practice by himself, he admits to the early trials he faced in generating business.

 “Some of those early months I found myself $50,000 in debt but I never worried about marketing myself. I only worried about doing the best job I could for each individual I was treating,” says Griffin.
     
With his work ethic leading the way, Griffin not only found stability in Beverly Hills but impressed the Beverly Hills locals at the same time. One of these was Bill Dorfman, Griffin's dentist. Griffin found his practice expanding. Life in Beverly Hills could be good for a successful plastic surgeon. And it also became predictable, year-after-year. A definite type-A personality, Griffin found he needed new challenges.

Plastic Surgeon To The World
Dr Anthony Griffin
And then the clock struck 2002. ABC Television was casting for a new reality show featuring doctors and dentists to perform one day makeovers on needy people. Bill Dorfman had locked up the role as the dentist on new show, Extreme Makeover. And then he recalled Anthony Griffin and suggested to Griffin that he meet with the show's producers.

Griffin agreed quickly and found himself in front of the Extreme Makeover producers who were as impressed with him as Dorfman. And Griffin's life has since unfolded at a dizzying pace with innumerable appearances in national and international media, along with appearing on other television programs like "The Tyra Banks Show." 
     
Griffin remains grateful and amazed at the path that started in snowy Wisconsin and now has him meeting plastic surgery challenges in front of the admiring gaze of millions of people. But the famous plastic surgeon who used to play with his grandmother's sewing patterns now reflects on his work fixing people and their perceptions of themselves. And he realizes that he's still an artist. 

“Even as a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, I’m less and less a technician and becoming more of an artist,” he says.

“With a patient in the operating room, it’s your vision and your eye. I still strive to retain that artists’ eye and the most important skill a plastic surgeon should have is to be able to tell when the artwork is done”.
 
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