Plastic surgeon-turned reality TV star lifts faces and spirits

Plastic surgeon-turned reality TV star lifts faces and spirits

Allissa Hosten

Sure there’s practice. But plastic truly makes perfect in Dr. Anthony Griffin’s world.

As one of the country’s few African-American plastic surgeons, and one of the most popular physicians on ABC’s hit reality series “Extreme Makeover,” perfection is what Griffin seems to guarantee.

The 44-year-old Beverly Hills doctor literally is changing the face of the industry by highlighting ethnic makeovers and integrating a predominantly White medical specialty.

“When I first told people about my aspirations, everyone was laughing at me saying, ‘Black folks don’t get plastic surgery,’ but now it’s all the rage,” he says in a recent telephone interview with JET.

Indeed, cosmetic plastic surgery among African-Americans has increased 30 percent, from 373,609 in 2000 to 487,759 procedures in 2003.

Before the surge in “nip and tuck” popularity came to pass though, Griffin had little advice, let alone inspiration, on becoming a plastic surgeon–until he came across a magazine piece.

“I got interested when I saw an article in EBONY called ‘Plastic Surgeons: Artists of the Operating Room,'” he says. “At that time I think there were only 15 African-Americans in the field. Now there are [more than] 50 of us.”

Griffin, a Kenosha, WI, native, joined the ranks of Black plastic surgeons after “Ivy-leaguing” it at Brown University for his undergraduate degree in biology. For the next five years he pursued dual Doctor of Medicine and Masters of Pharmacology degrees at Washington University in St. Louis.

Then, it was off to a general surgery residency at the University of’ Chicago, followed by a two-year stint in a plastic surgery residency at the University of Southern California. Griffin finished training in 1994, and has been practicing in Beverly Hills.

“The best thing [about being a plastic surgeon] is that when I was a kid, I used to like going to art class. Now I have my studio, which is the operating room,” he says.

Griffin admits that sharing his “studio” with millions of reality-TV viewers initially did not appeal to him. When his dentist, who is featured on “Extreme Makeover,” recommended him for the show, he couldn’t have been more reluctant. After all, “Extreme Makeover” is not for the camera-shy physician.

The show, which is in its second season, hosts a nationwide casting call, which has received more than 40,000 applications to date. Casting directors select those in need of the greatest aesthetic assistance. Then, the nation’s top plastic surgeons, eye surgeons, cosmetic dentists, cosmetologists and personal trainers perfect them during an 8-week seclusion from family and friends.

The show’s dramatic ending-when patients reappear before their loved ones in a “Cinderella-esque” total transformation-have made it a hit with viewers, ABC says.

But for Griffin, the pressure was on.

“At first, I had second thoughts because when I take off the [post-operation] dressing, 10 million people are looking at it with me for the first time,” be says with a chuckle. “But once I stopped thinking about my own career and started thinking about the impact on the African-American community, I was all for it.”

Griffin’s first “Extreme Makeover” patient, and his most challenging patient to date, he says, was Angela Bates, a Milwaukee clinic clerk. Bates primarily wanted to get rid of her large nose and lips.

“Three other doctors turned her down,” Griffin says, but he understood the unique issues Blacks face in the operating room.

As a result of Griffin’s intrepid, yet compassionate attitude, and his impressive work on Bates, he has been fielding calls for his services ever since the show aired on Jan. 8.

Griffin also is in high demand within the non-profit sector. He divides his time between a California anti-drugs campaign called Say it Loud, I Need No Drugs, and Operation Smile, an organization that rids children around the globe of their facial deformities. In fact, an Operation trip to Kenya was where he met his wife Belle, a nurse and medical researcher.

As for the other love of his life, medicine, Griffin dreams of launching nationwide ethnic plastic surgery centers someday. Right now though, he enjoys his newfound stardom and the fascinating, yet fulfilling life he leads in Beverly Hills.

“[I love being] around healthy people who look good or want to look good,” he says. “It’s fun to be a part of the Hollywood scene yet still be a doctor.”

COPYRIGHT 2004 Johnson Publishing Co.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group