Monday, April 7, 2014

The Michelangelo of surgery

The delicate hands of Dr. Florencio Q. Lucero, plastic surgeon, carve graceful curves in the space in front of him. He is tracing the sinuous contours of an eyelid as he describes what he regards as “the most stressful of all surgeries” for the plastic surgeon: cosmetic. 

It is most difficult because its success or failure depends, not so much on an objective scientific paradigm, as with most things medical in nature, but on someone else’s subjective sense of beauty – the patient as beholder. 

In that sense, then, cosmetic surgery is the most customer-driven of all medical procedures: its beauty lies in the eyes of the patient.

The Michelangelo of surgery

I had bumped into Dr. Lucero, a classmate in college, in a coffee shop in Ortigas Center.  With him was his wife, Tinette, mother of their three children, 15 years his junior, but looking a good 30 years younger.  

For a moment I wondered if she had been the object of the good doctor’s ministrations, but one does not ask that kind of question – you just assume it as fact.  (By praising her profusely, I was able to elicit an admission from Tinette: she is a walking billboard of her husband’s extraordinary skill!)

Since school, Dr. Lucero had gone on to become one of the most successful plastic surgeons in the country, if not the most famous, at least the most respected.  He was leaving for Singapore in a few days to deliver a lecture on – what else? – cosmetic surgery and to rub elbows with the best and the finest plastic surgeons in our neck of the woods. 

Business strategy as science

I casually mentioned that I was in the middle of writing a business strategy book for budding entrepreneurs and marketing professionals. 

I said Iwould be delighted to include a chapter on the burgeoning industry called cosmetic surgery.  

Tinette was gracious enough to have me over for lunch at home when they returned from Singapore.

“Don’r charge too much!”

Now, over a delicious dessert of mango ice cream swimming in the sweetest mango puree available, Dr. Lucero tells me his life’s story. He wistfully recalls the sage advice of his father, a businessman, who reminded him always not to charge “too much.”  

Medicine is a calling more than a profession, the elder Lucero believed with all his heart, and this value – he would be happy to see now – is deeply imprinted in his son, Dr. Lucero, the plastic surgeon.

Dr. Lucero attributes his expertise, recognized internationally, to his father’s values, to the teachers who mentored him, and to the specialized training he received along the way, covering a period of nine years. 

A surgeon’s surgeon

He had always dreamed of becoming a surgeon – an excellent one – but what brought him to plastic surgery was a series of serendipitous events that led him to what he really liked most to do.

He was a surgeon first of all, and he did the usual internship at the Philippine General Hospital. Along the way he received special training in the United States in reconstructive surgery, specializing in burn patients, a very difficult procedure to master.  

This led to microsurgery, especially among conjoined twins, and then to plastic surgery.  Cosmetic surgery, he explains, is actually a branch of plastic surgery, but he does not recommend it for everyone. 

Surgery as art

“It looks simple, but it is not,” he says over coffee.  It begins with God-given talent, ample amounts of it, “which you can discover along the way,” he says.  
But that is just the beginning.  The raw talent must be honed by training under the masters. Like a sculptor beginning with a block of raw marble, the plastic surgeon masters the craft, turning stone into the stunning masterpieces of a Michelangelo.

“But plastic surgery is immensely more difficult,” he says, “because you are working with living tissue, turning it into a thing of beauty. This is where the aesthetic sense of the cosmetic surgeon comes into play.”  

The artistic eye

He continues: “It begins in the eye, the surgeon’s artistic sense. And it ends in the mind of the patient, her own self image and what she considers beautiful.  

“In the end, it is the patient’s satisfaction with the results of the creative process that brings the ultimate joy to the surgeon – the satisfaction of being able to do beautiful things.”

Over a second cup of delightful espresso, Dr. Lucero continues: “It’s all in the planning. The moment I visualize the plan and draw the lines, the process is practically over. From there on, it is all a matter of technique and procedure.” 

Learning from the masters

For Dr. Lucero, keeping abreast of worldwide trends is the key to the cosmetic surgeon’s art. Occasionally, he is called to the Health Care City in Dubai to perform procedures on some well-heeled European and Middle Eastern clients. 

“Overseas exposure changes your paradigms,” he says.  But it is also important to learn from the masters.

“Abroad, they always refer to the masters. And the younger surgeons not only refer but also defer to the elders. We haven’t learned to do that here.”

To enhance, not change

“Another thing we have to learn is that cosmetic surgery is not meant to change your looks into some celebrity’s looks. It is meant to enhance your natural beauty, to bring back the beauty of your youth.”  

How do you know you are in the hands of a real professional? 

“It pays to do some research,” he says.  “Check the credentials. Talk to previous patients. Is the surgeon certified by the College of Surgeons or by the medical association? Has he had extensive training here and abroad?”

For emphasis, his hands trace delicate curves when he speaks. They glide in the air gracefully, yet confidently. They are the hands of a true master of the craft. 


The latest high-tech machine to join the array of advanced medical equipment is a lipo-sculpting machine. 

Dr. Lucero prefers to call it a body-sculpting machine, for it is dexterous enough to sculpt the human body.  

In his hands, one wonders what magnificent physical sculptures would be created by this marvel of modern medical technology. Michelangelo would be proud of Dr. Lucero’s art: a thing of beauty is a joy forever.

His roots

In spite of these revolutionary developments in modern medicine, Dr. Lucero goes back to his roots. He still likes doing the complete facial treatment, which includes eyelid lifting and eye bag removal as part of a total facial rejuvenation. It’s just the Michelangelo in him.

Before I turned to leave, I remembered to ask him the inevitable question: Why would Filipinas want to have their eyes enlarged, their noses turned up, and their skin whitened?

He just gave me a Mona Lisa smile.


*(Excerpted from a forthcoming book by the author.)

Photo credit: Dr. Florencio Q. Lucero,


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