Since 2001 Doctor Helena Puonti has been developing a unique microneurovascular technology that restores sensitivity as the reconstructed breast recovers.
She has shown that it is possible to recover natural sensitivity in the breast skin when even just one (or two) nerves of skin-muscular tissue from the abdominal cavity anterior wall are sewed to the sensitive nerve fiber of the breast.
This innovative technology was published in her thesis in 2017. Many patients come to Clinic Helena for breast reconstructive surgery not only for breast shape but also to recover breast sensitivity.
This is my story
I was a little girl when I realised, I wanted to become a doctor.
My mother suffered from painful osteoarthritis which might have contributed to my decision as I wished I could have been able to ease her suffering. My choice of high school was then based on my big dream and afterward, I continued to study medicine.
During a surgery course in medical school, I realised that taking care of the cuts and bruises was the “traditional doctor” work that I had always wanted to do.
In the beginning, being a surgeon felt like too big a challenge, but I regained trust in myself as I realised that the main goal in every surgery was to heal the patient and not just to complete a technically perfect operation.
Each patient deserves to have the right diagnosis and the most suitable treatment plan of all the available care methods.
A good surgeon needs not only excellent craftsmanship but also the ability to listen and understand the patient alongside knowledge and experience.
This is something I have understood along my learning journey from many skillful teachers.
I started working as a surgeon in Pietarsaari on the western coast of Finland, first as a resident and then as a senior physician.
I specialized in surgery in Kokkola City Hospital and Tampere University Hospital. After graduation, I moved to Savonlinna for family reasons.
When the different breast cancer treatments advanced over the years, I developed a profound interest in plastic surgery. Savonlinna Central Hospital offered the perfect settings and resources for me, as I wanted to focus on developing breast cancer treatment and research it to help my patients even further.
I started microsurgery in 1991, became a plastic surgeon in 1998, and in 2001 I reconstructed the first sensitive breast for a breast cancer patient by introducing nerve coaptation to the free flap technique.
I did my Ph.D. thesis on the subject in 2017. My research included close to 100 patients to whom I reconstructed a breast using microneurovascular muscle sparing TRAM flap.
According to my research, the recovered sensitivity (touch, hot and cold, pain) has, on average, been 60% of normal breast sensitivity – although the research has also included breasts that have even regained full sensitivity.
In addition to the Savonlinna Central Hospital work, I founded Clinic Helena in 1999 and it has given me a way to develop the aesthetic surgery side of the practice.
Aesthetic plastic surgery is an extremely challenging field as there are no standard procedures; you need to identify the core issue and understand the needs and wants of each patient individually.
In aesthetic surgery, most of the expertise needs to be acquired abroad. The first operating years were quite stressful but with time the constantly amounting knowledge and experience have given me the courage and wisdom to trust in my own abilities in executing even the more difficult operations.
Savonlinna area media partners – 2016
Local Savonlinna area newspapers, Etelä-Savo radio station & Savonlinna Society in Helsinki chose Helena Puonti as a Black Sheep (Local hero) of 2016.
In the past, black sheep were grown in the Olavinlinna castle for the St. Olaf festivity dinner. According to the legend, one night the sheep saved the whole castle when it rose to the stonewall and scared the enemy away with its big horns and the scary sound of its claws rattling on the stonewall, hence it became the “local hero”.
City of Savonlinna – 2010
In 2010, Helena Puonti was awarded the medal of the City of Savonlinna as an acknowledgement for her meritorious work for the city.
Finnish Cancer Society – 2002
In 2002 the Cancer Society of Finland named Helena Puonti the “Oncologist of the Year” for her professional and comprehensive work for cancer patients and for the wide appreciation both among patients and colleagues.
Savonlinna area Business Women – Rosina award- 2001
In 2001 The Society of Savonlinna Area Business Women named Helena Puonti the “Rosina of the Year” as an acknowledgement for her work in the Savonlinna business area.
“Kodin kuvalehti” journal- 2001
The readers of Kodin Kuvalehti chose Helena as the “Best Doctor in Finland” claiming that Helena is “to her patients both a human being and a doctor. She appreciates her patients and her medical team, she is a good listener and a meticulous researcher, a professional who keeps up with the latest research”.
Publications, Helena Puonti
- Helena K. Puonti, Satu K. Jääskeläinen, Helena K. Hallikainen, Taina A. Partanen. A new approach to microneurovascular TRAM-flap breast reconstruction, a pilot study. Journal of Plastic, Reconstructive & Aesthetic Surgery, 64, 346e352, 2011
- Helena K. Puonti, Satu K. Jääskeläinen, Helena K. Hallikainen, Taina A. Partanen. A Microneurovascular TRAM Flap Does Not Compromise Abdominal Sensibility More Than a Conventional One. Plast Reconstr Surg 130(3):382c, 2012
- Helena K. Puonti, Satu K. Jääskeläinen, Helena K. Hallikainen, Taina A. Partanen. Improved sensory recovery with a novel dual neurorrhaphy technique for breast reconstruction with muscle-sparing TRAM flap technique. Microsurgery, 37 (1) 21-28, 2017
- Helena K. Puonti, Taina A. Broth, Seppo O. Soinila, Helena K. Hallikainen, Satu K. Jääskeläinen. How to assess sensory recovery after breast reconstruction surgery, Clinical Breast Cancer, 17 (6): 471-485, October 2017
- Helena K. Puonti: Dissertation, Effects of microsurgical nerve repair on sensory function after breast reconstruction. Helsinki University, 27.01.2017
Dissertation, Helena Puonti
Effects of microsurgical nerve repair on sensory function after breast reconstruction
Helsinki University, medical science, Finland, 27.01.2017
A beautiful, naturally-shaped, and symmetrical breast mound will be created for a breast cancer patient after mastectomy using a free abdominal flap. The disadvantage with the breast reconstructed with this method is its lack of sensation, even some spontaneous reinnervation takes place from the surrounding tissues… Learn all about the Sensing breast here.