As a young medical intern, Dr James Southwell-Keely knew he wanted to specialise in plastic surgery after observing his first reconstructive surgery to restore a patient’s lower lip after losing half of it to cancer.
“I was shocked at the appearance of the patient and wondered how he could ever look remotely normal again. After the operation, I was amazed by the result and how physically and emotionally that process had restored the patient’s life. It was as if the cancer had never been there.”
“What drives plastic surgeons is the pursuit of perfection, which takes you on a journey of transformation with your patients. You literally become a part of their lives in the technical challenge to correct their diverse range of problems.”
Dr Southwell-Keely started his own journey to become a reconstructive surgeon after graduating with Honours from Medical School at the University of Sydney. He then spent nine years training to be a plastic surgeon in the busy teaching hospitals of metropolitan Sydney. During this time he completed a Masters of Surgery, once again through the University of Sydney, focusing his research interests in the field of plastic surgery.
Having completed the rigorous fellowship examinations with the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, he spent another two years working in the UK and Europe, including Stockholm, Paris and Lyon, acquiring further knowledge and perfecting skills in cosmetic facial surgery, cosmetic breast surgery and microsurgery for breast and facial reconstruction.
He is a member of the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), which works in conjunction with the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons to train future Australian plastic surgeons.
His areas of expertise include facial cosmetic and reconstructive surgery, breast cosmetic and reconstructive surgery, microsurgery, maxillofacial surgery, skin cancer surgery and hand surgery.
As a Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, Dr Southwell-Keely continues a long tradition of serving his community through working in the public hospital system. He holds consultant positions at St Vincent’s Hospital and Bankstown Hospital, while he operates privately at St Luke’s and St Vincent’s Private Hospitals.
“I consider myself incredibly lucky to work in an area of medicine that is both physically and mentally challenging. I thrive on the journey I share with each patient, and no two days are ever the same. A patient’s journey starts with me listening to their problems, diagnosing a course of management, technically creating the solution and nursing them through to recovery. The best part is seeing the end result and sharing their range of emotions including relief, joy, fulfillment, contentment and happiness.”
For those who lampoon cosmetic plastic surgery to turn back the clock, his defense is plain and simple:
“As a population we are living longer and healthier lives yet the ageing process proceeds unabated. By turning back the clock patients feel better about themselves, which is a very positive thing. This allows that person to look as young as they feel, hence renewing self-confidence. With confidence comes happiness and both these emotions are extremely empowering.”
When it comes to deciding, “how soon is too soon”, Dr Southwell-Keely says a steady, sequential turning back of the clock is more effective and subtle than a sudden, late, dramatic makeover.
Non-surgical treatments such as Fraxel laser treatments are excellent as stand alone procedures and as an adjunct to surgery to further enhance the results.
The overuse of fillers when surgery would have been a much better option is a problem that we are seeing more frequently and can actually have negative long-term effects.
The area of reconstructive surgery that excites Dr Southwell-Keely the most is performing the latest breast reconstruction techniques such as the DIEP flap method (using a patients’ own stomach fat and tissue to recreate new breasts after a mastectomy).
“I am passionate about restoring my patients’ sense of wholeness and lost femininity after a mastectomy. I strive to leave patients looking as good if not better than before, which is an intensely rewarding part of my job.”
“It’s the holistic approach to treating patients, taking into account their mental wellbeing as much as their physical, which is definitely the way of the future for medicine which and I am embracing wholeheartedly.”