Body Sculpting by Dr. Lucero, the Michelangelo of Surgery
By WINSTON A. MARBELLA
(Excerpted from a forthcoming book, Competing With Giants, with permission from the author. All rights reserved.)
SURGERY AS ART
With a graceful curve, the hand of Dr. Florencio Q. Lucero, plastic surgeon, undulates in the space between us. He is tracing the sinuous contours of an eyelid as he describes what he regards as "the most stressful of all surgeries" for the plastic surgeon: cosmetic. It is most difficult because its success or failure depends not so much on the objective scientific paradigm as with most things medical in nature, but on someone else’s subjective sense of beauty – the patient as beholder. In that sense, then, cosmetic surgery is the most customer-driven of all medical procedures: its beauty lies in the eyes of the patient.
I had bumped into Dr. Lucero, a classmate in college, in a coffee shop in Ortigas Center. With him was his wife Tinette, mother of their three children, 15 years his junior, but looking a good 30 years younger. For a minute I wondered if she had been the object of the good doctor’s ministrations, but one does not ask those kinds of questions in polite society – you just assume it as a given fact.
Since school, Dr. Lucero had gone on to become one of the most successful plastic surgeons in the country, if not the most famous, at least the most respected. He was leaving for Singapore in a few days to deliver a lecture on – what else? – his practice and to rub elbows with the best and the finest plastic surgeons in our neck of the woods. I casually mentioned that I was in the middle of writing a business strategy book for budding entrepreneurs and marketing professionals and would be delighted to include a chapter on the burgeoning industry called cosmetic surgery. Tinette was gracious enough to have me over for lunch at home when they returned from Singapore.
DON’T CHARGE TOO MUCH
Now, over a delicious dessert of mango ice cream swimming in the sweetest mango puree available, Dr. Lucero tells his life’s story. He wistfully recalls the sage advice his father, a businessman, who reminded him always not to charge “too much.” Medicine is a calling more than a profession, the elder Lucero believed with all his heart, and this value – he would be happy to see now – is deeply imprinted in his son, Dr. Lucero, the plastic surgeon.
Dr. Lucero attributes his experience, recognized internationally, to his parents' values, the teachers who mentored him, and the specialized training he received along the way, covering a period of nine years. He had always dreamed of becoming a surgeon – an excellent one – but what brought him to plastic surgery was a series of serendipitous events that led him to what he really liked most to do. He was a surgeon first of all, and he did the usual stuff at the Philippine General Hospital, but along the way he received special training in the United States in reconstructive surgery, specializing in burn patients, a very difficult procedure to master. This led to cosmetic surgery. Cosmetic surgery, he explains, is actually a branch of plastic surgery, but he does not recommend it for everyone.
MICHELANGELO OF SKIN
“It looks simple, but it is not,” he says over coffee. It begins with God-given talent, ample amounts of it, “which you can discover along the way,” he says. But that is just the beginning. The raw talent must be honed by training under the masters. Like a sculptor beginning with a block of raw marble, the plastic surgeon masters the craft, turning stone into the stunning pieces of a Michelangelo.
“But plastic surgery is immensely more difficult,” he says, “because you are working with living tissue, turning it into a thing of beauty. This is where the aesthetic sense of the cosmetic surgeon comes into play. It begins in the eye, the surgeon’s artistic sense. And it ends in the mind of the patient, her own self- image and what she considers beautiful. In the end, it is the patient’s satisfaction with the results of the creative process that brings the ultimate joy to the surgeon – the satisfaction of being able to do beautiful things.”
LEARNING FROM THE MASTERS
Dr. Lucero continues: “It’s all in the planning. The moment I visualize the plan and draw the lines, the process is practically over. From there on, it’s all a matter of technique and procedure.” For Dr. Lucero, keeping abreast of worldwide trends is key to the cosmetic surgeon’s art. Occasionally, he is called to the Health Care City in Dubai to perform procedures on some high-heeled European and Middle Eastern clients. “Overseas exposure changes your paradigms,” he says. “It is also important to learn from the masters. Abroad, they always refer to the masters. And the younger surgeons not only refer but also defer to the elders. We haven’t learned to do that here.”
"Another thing we have to learn is that cosmetic surgery is not meant to change your looks into some celebrity's looks. It is meant to enhance your natural beauty, to bring back the beauty of your youth." How do you know you are in the hands of a real professional? "It pays to do some research," he says. "Check the credentials. Talk to previous patients. Is the surgeon certified by the College of Surgeons or by the medical association? Has he had extensive training here and abroad?"
For emphasis, his hands trace delicate curves when he speaks. They glide in the air gracefully, yet confidently. They are the hands of a true master of the art.
Michelangelo would be proud of Dr. Lucero’s art: a thing of beauty is a joy forever.