Anthony Youn

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by Ruby Comer

Florence, Italy

Photo by Amy Elizabeth Youn
I feel like first-time explorer Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday—carefree and in love, as I scoot around Florence on my thrilling fire engine red Vespa. I’m in love with both this enchanting city and the place I’m hangin’ my backpack, The Grand Hotel Villa Medici. Celebrating fifty years, they’ve harnessed all that magic into a fresh new experience. Once you walk through the glass entrance of this former eighteenth-century palace, the marble, the art, and all the fashionable appointments enchant your senses. The ambience is affable nobility with quiet elegance. Why, darling, it would make any princess feel right at home!

Yesterday I attended a UNAIDS symposium and stumbled upon a captivating medical doctor with a delightfully wicked sense of humor. We were an instant match! I knew who he was, as last summer I took him to bed with me for several nights. Well, er, that’s not quite accurate. You see, I was reading Dr. Anthony Youn’s memoir, In Stitches. It’s the story of a “nerd who wore Coke-bottle glasses [and] braces” who grew up to be an accomplished plastic surgeon. Tony’s honesty is refreshing, and the engaging tome will take you on an amusing—and eye-opening—journey into the medical field. You might know Tony as his puss has graced American television, appearing on such shows as The Rachael Ray Show and The Doctors.

I discover that Tony is staying at the same hotel. We agree to meet the next morning for breakfast. On the return from my morning jog to Piazza Michelangelo, I cross the Arno River on the Ponte Vecchio. Scenario potente! Once back in my stylish suite, I apply my makeup on the balcony. It’s best doing it in daylight, ya know; the chances are better you won’t end up looking like some amateur drag queen. I take periodical “sighs” as I gaze at the view: Brunelleschi’s iconic eight-sided dome of the gothic Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. Ahh, Firenze…

Ruby Comer: Buongiorno! [I say, greeting the staff at the entrance to the Conservatory, the dining room. Tony waves yonder. He’s seated on the atrium patio at one of the stately linen-covered tables near the kidney-shaped swimming pool. We embrace.] What a lovely area, huh? It’s like we’re having breakfast in someone’s private backyard.
Anthony Youn:
Absolutely, Ruby.

[Without hesitation, we both head to the buffet table. Tony gets French toast; I indulge in eggs Benedict. Seated once again, the waiter pours my green tea and then Tony’s decaf java.] Let me start right off and ask, how has the epidemic impacted you?
Like most physicians, the AIDS epidemic has touched all parts of my medical life and training. As an undergrad I spent several months in a pharmaceutical laboratory researching HIV antiviral medications, and even wrote my senior thesis on it. During my medical school years I spent considerable time with an infectious disease physician at an HIV clinic. As a plastic surgeon I don’t encounter HIV/AIDS on a daily basis in my patients, but, I occasionally treat people who’ve developed HIV-related facial wasting.

Ah, yes. I’ve had friends with this condition who’ve been helped by doctors like you. How does that work, Tony? What’s the procedure like?
The best treatment is fat grafting, where I remove fat from the tummy or love handles and inject it into the face. Fat grafting can be permanent, and therefore is a great treatment for this. For HIV/AIDS patients who aren’t interested in surgery, I often inject Sculptra to plump the face. Sculptra is an FDA-approved injectable treatment that gradually fills out areas that are gaunt or sunken. While less invasive than fat grafting, it can be more expensive in the long run since it only lasts about two years and then must be repeated.

Uh, huh…[I take a nibble of my gluten-free cookie I specially ordered.] And what’s your favorite kind of surgery to perform?
Facial fat grafting. This is a very powerful tool that plastic surgeons are now using to reverse the aging process. While its most obvious indications are to add volume to a gaunt or thinned face, we are now discovering that our fat is full of stem cells. These stem cells have the potential for reversing aging in a way we’ve never imagined. It’s an exciting treatment whose potential we’ve only begun to appreciate.

Grandioso! [Paolo, the more-than-obliging concierge, kindly interrupts briefly and tells me that he’s confirmed my tickets to the Accademia for today.] I can’t wait to sensually bathe myself in Michelangelo’s David again. What genius! [Tony nods wholeheartedly.] Say, do you have any other association with the HIV/AIDS community?
In a major way, I have focused on research on HIV medications. [He pours more thick maple syrup on his entrée.] I’ve also donated to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and other AIDS-related charities.

Well, good night shirt, that’s one of my favorite charities! [He grins exposing a sexy smile.]
Fortunately, all of my patients who have HIV are living long, happy lives, thanks to the success of antiviral medications. I believe the considerable success physicians and patients have had with the newer antivirals is one of the most important advances in medicine today.

That’s good to hear. You’re certainly a role model for many, Tony. Do you have a role model?
I’ve always respected Greg Louganis [A&U, February 2008] for his courage in revealing both his sexual orientation and his HIV status.
What a champion—in many ways! Doctorrrr….have you always played safely? Now be honest with Ms. Ruby….
Yes, I always used condoms, Ms. Ruby! [He smirks then shouts…] Wrap it! [The family next to us looks up. Tony and I look at each other and chuckle.]

And did you and your wife, Amy, who you met in medical school, ever get tested?
Like many couples, we were tested before marriage. We’re both negative.

Smart. Thinking ahead, how will you address STDs with your two kids when they’re grown?
[He hesitates.] That’s a hard question considering they are less than six years-old, Ruby! Well, we’ll have the dreaded talk sometime before I believe they are sexually active. Hopefully, by then, it will only be a discussion about why they should get vaccinated for HIV.

I like your positive mindset. Signore, who’s your favorite action hero?

Grand Hotel Villa Medici, Florence, Italy
I’ve always looked up to Spider-Man. As a skinny nerd with no game and no clue, I’ve always empathized with the story of skinny-geek-makes-good by beating up bad guys and getting the girl. It’s also the story of my favorite movie growing up, The Karate Kid. I think there’s always been a part of me growing up who felt like an outsider. I was never the popular quarterback of the football team who got all the girls. Instead, I was always the good friend who left parties and walked home alone listening to the Carpenters on my Walkman.

Jumpin’ Jehovah! I knew we were kindred spirits. I loved—and still do—the Carpenters. What an angelic voice Karen had….
Her version of “Superstar” is awesome! Too bad she’s gone. [With admiration, he lightly touches the fresh violet orchid that adorns our table.] I hope a lot of people can relate to my story, and will laugh and cry along with me in In Stitches, as I learned how to overcome being an outsider and to become comfortable in my own skin.

Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by e-mail at [email protected]

December 2011