When Dr. Louis-Philippe Dombard talks about aesthetic surgery, he leans forward earnestly. With his elbows on his knees and his hands gesturing right and left, it’s as if he can’t speak fast enough to express everything he wants to say. He rocks back and forth and tells story after story. His passion spills out with every word — it’s clear he has limitless dedication to perfecting his craft.
Dr. Dombard’s obsession with being the best started early, when he went to Germany to continue his medical studies. He read about Professor Ivo Pitanguy, a successful plastic surgeon and professor in Brazil, and knew he needed to pack his bags.
Dr. Dombard said: “I didn’t know him, but I said, ‘I will work with this man’”.
He flew to Brazil and went straight to the clinic. Pitanguy wasn’t there. Dr. Dombard checked into a hotel and waited there for the weekend. When he went back on Monday, Pitanguy, who usually selects five surgeons from the 100 who apply to work with him each year, sent Dr. Dombard packing. “Learn Portuguese, get recommendation letters and take a placement test,” he told Dr. Dombard. Then try again.
Two years later, Dr. Dombard was back in Brazil. This time, he was ready – he knew the language, took the test and was accepted into Pitanguy’s program. For three years, he lived in Brazil and learned from the best.
Now, as the owner of his own 20-year-old private clinic in Brussels, Dr. Dombard credits Pitanguy not just with teaching him the technicalities of surgery, but with helping him understand the spiritual and philosophical side of being a surgeon. He learned the importance of the relationship between the patient and the surgeon — a surgeon must choose the patient just as the patient chooses the surgeon. “We make the choice together,” he said. For Dr. Dombard, it’s not about the money – it’s about doing good, clean surgery and making patients happy.
Often, happiness comes from feeling comfortable with yourself. Lots of patients feel a loss of femininity or masculinity, Dr. Dombard said, and aesthetic surgery can help them gain or regain that part of themselves. A few years ago, a young man came into Dr. Dombard’s clinic dejected and upset over his feminine nose and chin. He was unhappy, and it was affecting his schoolwork and personal life. Two years later, with more masculine features, he came back into the clinic beaming. Dr. Dombard said the young man told him, “I am so happy. I feel so powerful – I have so much energy.” He finished his degrees in law and economics and was thrilled to finally feel like himself.
Dr. Dombard has a slew of stories of patients like this one, people who have turned their lives around because of his surgery.
Julia Bush sat down with Dr. Dombard in his clinic – which is connected to his home and feels like a cosy living room full of flowers, coffee tables and rugs – to talk about his unique practice.
Julia Bush : What are the most important lessons you learned from Dr. Pitanguy while you were in Brazil?
Dr. Dombard: First, you do it because you love it. It’s dedication. You have to dedicate your life to what you do. Second, you don’t think about money. You think about doing your work really well. He said to me: “Don’t try to be the best surgeon. Try not to have complications”. I’ll see a patient and they’ll say: “I need a facelift”. If I just wanted the money, I’d say sure right away. But I have to tell them about complications, take blood tests to see if they’re in good health to do the surgery. I must feel I can help them.
J.B.: So you don’t agree to do surgery for anyone who says they need it.
Dr. Dombard: If you want to do the operation, I ask you to go to a psychologist and understand what has happened. This is the most important thing. The problem is not to do it – it’s to understand why you do it. Sometimes I do very difficult surgery because the patient says: “I want this and this is why”. The change must bring happiness.
J.B.: When a patient decides they want surgery, how does the process work?
Dr. Dombard: There are three stages to aesthetic surgery. First, there’s a consultation. We meet each other and look to see if it’s possible. It’s very important after this first consultation to take time — take two or three months or a year. Then, when you decide to do the surgery, wait two or three months. Then you’re thinking responsibly. Second, there’s the material surgery. Third, the postsurgery is to care for the patient. I need to do it for free because it’s my surgery. Every complication is my responsibility.
J.B.: What is the key to your success?
Dr. Dombard: First, you love what you do and because you like it you respect yourself. You give the maximum to achieve your success. It’s not complicated. It’s the same everywhere. I treat the patient like my mother or my sister – people are a big family. If I couldn’t operate on my sister, then I couldn’t do it all.
J.B.: What kinds of positive outcomes have you seen in your patients?
Dr. Dombard: Happiness, happiness, happiness. When they come back to see me later, they sit down and smile. They are happy.
For people considering surgery, Dr. Dombard has a few tips:
1. Know why: Make sure you know why you want surgery. Open discussion of your goals and expectations is the beginning of a healthy relationship with your surgeon.
2. Consult several surgeons: Visit as many clinics as you think you need to. You can have multiple consultations – make sure you’re choosing the right surgeon for you, and once you’ve chosen, take responsibility for your decision.
3. Never go alone: Always bring family members, friends or a significant other to your consultation to make sure you don’t miss anything the doctor says. It’s easy to get caught up in the exciting possibilities and mishear or glaze over details. Having someone with you to remind you what was said relieves some of the pressure to ask every single important question and memorize every detail of the process.
4. Understand the price: Dr. Dombard takes full responsibility for any possible complications after surgery, but many surgeons do not. If the initial price is low, it could be a marketing scam – it’s possible that the surgeon will continue to charge for further surgeries to adjust or fix the initial procedure.