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Stephanie Kwei, MD: Surgery that is deeply personal

August 15, 2014
by Rhea Hirshman

Stephanie Kwei, MD, first came to Yale as an undergraduate geology major with a passion for performing classical violin music. After volunteering in New Haven soup kitchens and at Yale-New Haven Hospital, her career path changed. “Those activities awakened my social conscience,” she said, “and by my senior year, I had decided to pursue medicine.”

Dr. Kwei is now an assistant professor of surgery at Yale School of Medicine who specializes in plastic surgery. She has special expertise in two areas: reconstructive procedures for breast cancer patients, and body contouring—the removal of excess tissue to reshape areas of the body—after bariatric, or weight loss, surgery.

Her chosen field takes its name from the Greek word plastikos, meaning to mold or sculpt. Accustomed to using her hands to create music, Dr. Kwei said she gravitated to plastic surgery as a specialty focused on a different art—that of restoring the human body.

Most of Dr. Kwei’s patients come to her after grappling with life-altering experiences. For women facing mastectomy, she said, “The cancer diagnosis itself is traumatic, but, with breast cancer, many women are also concerned with deeply personal matters of identity and sexuality. I work closely with each patient to understand her individual circumstances, and what her hopes and needs are with the reconstruction process.”

Patients who have had bariatric surgery undergo major physical transformation. Often, Dr. Kwei is working with individuals who have lost 100 pounds or more. While the weight loss can result in dramatic improvements in such medical conditions as diabetes and hypertension, these patients can also be left with excess tissue that is subject to painful irritation, and that can interfere with physical activity and overall well-being. Body contouring, Dr. Kwei said, is very individualized, and the completion of the weight loss process. “It not only helps people feel and look better, but research shows that those who have contouring surgery are more successful at maintaining weight loss.”

Reflecting on her surgical practice, Dr. Kwei said, “I feel very lucky to be doing what I do. Whether I’m helping breast cancer patients return to their lives, or supporting the hard work that my contouring patients have done to improve their health, I’m grateful that my work can enhance people’s lives.”

More about Dr. Kwei

Name: Stephanie Kwei, MD

Areas of expertise: Aesthetic surgery, bariatric body contouring surgery, breast reconstructive surgery, breast surgery

Medical school: Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Additional training: General surgery residency at Tufts New England Medical Center; fellowship in plastic surgery at Harvard University

Musical note: Dr. Kwei played with the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra for two seasons before attending medical school.

On music in her current life: “I listen all the time, but being a mom of two young children, I don’t have much time for playing. I am getting my children involved with music, and I play occasionally in a chamber trio. Maybe when the kids are a little older, I’ll join the physicians’ orchestra here at Yale.”

Her other avocation: Organic gardening with her family. “Chard and kale are great sources of calcium and protein.”

Last book read: Heaven is For Real, by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent. (“Given to me by a patient.”)

Submitted by Mark Santore on August 15, 2014