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Treasured Tattoo
Like the nipples she renders foe patients following reconstructive bnreast surgery, Bonnie Hippler's caring touch is indelible.

Bonnie Hippler slides on a pair of vibrant purple gloves, grabs an elongated swab and swirls it into a small plastic top filled with a mauve liquid pigment foundation. It's been more than five years since Hippler, a plastic and reconstructive nurse, took up the art of nipple tattooing, and she is no longer nervous that she will mistakenly shape the areola like a lopsided oblong or worse, a perfect square.

Nipple tattooing is offered after breast reconstructive surgery. For some of Hippler's patients, it represents a sweet reward for making it through an exhausting and life-threatening battle. Both patient and nurse see the creation of a defined and colored area as an unexpected gift that can go a long way in helping them feel whole again. "These women are so happy to be alive," says Hippler, who began her career nearly 20 years ago as an oncology nurse. "They are still filled with such emotion. After all they have been through, this is the easy part."

After one lumpectomy, one mastectomy and one breast reduction, patient Mary "Ginger" Hale was definitely ready for her reward. So after a plastic surgeon created a new breast and reconstructed her nipple, Hale, 70, chose tattooing. "We are more aware of the many options available to us today," says Hale, a retired administrative judge. "I thought, why not have the nipple tattoo? Why not go the whole way?"

She did, twice. After the first tattooing faded, she returned to the Outpatient Center for the procedure. Now, as Hippler blends a few pigment colors to match the color of Hale's original nipple, she uses the time to soothe her patient with her soft voice, gentle touches and sensitive questions about family and friends. Then, Hippler smoothly swabs the area on which she will tattoo the areola. She turns on the drill topped with nine microneedles and aerates the area so that the skin slowly absorbs the pigment. She works until the entire area is uniform with color.

"It's wonderful we can have this done," Hale says. "With breast cancer, women used to be mutilated physically and psychologically. All the available therapies can go a long way in making a woman feel less like a specimen and more like a woman."

-Seana Coffin



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