A lifelong athlete and fitness buff, Rebekah Zaluzec became a certified Pilates instructor after college to help clients achieve their health goals.
Then, Zaluzec realized she could do far more to transform people’s lives as a surgeon.
She went on to medical school, then Dr. Zaluzec spent six years training as a general surgeon in the toughest of atmospheres: on the south side of Chicago at Mount Sinai Hospital, a Level 1 trauma center.
“It was non-stop. Unfortunately, we had many victims of domestic violence. They would come in with facial fractures,” Zaluzec said.
Coping with chaos and seeing the effects of violence firsthand might intimidate some young doctors. Not Zaluzec. She saw the opportunity to make a difference.
She would tell young abuse victims: “You have a broken jaw, but we can fix this.”
Zaluzec fell in love with plastic and reconstructive surgery.
“Function is the most important aspect of the human body. We need to be able to open our mouths to eat. But, we can do surgery in a way that’s also aesthetically pleasing so there are no scars,” Zaluzec said.
Extensive training in plastic, reconstructive and aesthetic surgery
After her general surgery residency, Zaluzec spent three additional years training to become a plastic and reconstructive surgeon, then another year specializing in aesthetic surgeries like breast augmentations, abdominoplasties, body sculpting, and facial rejuvenation.
She now brings her array of talents to a new multi-specialty center, the UCHealth Cherry Creek Medical Center, which opened this month in one of Denver’s most popular neighborhoods, Cherry Creek.
For cancer survivors, Zaluzec is a pro at breast reconstruction surgery. For moms who want to look their best after having had their children, Zaluzec can do “mommy makeovers:” tummy tucks, breast lifts and wrinkle-reducing surgeries.
“There are some things about your body that you are not able to fix with health and fitness. I carried a twin pregnancy to term, then breastfed and pumped for my children. I understand the changes that happen with pregnancy and aging. I get that.”
“We can help rejuvenate the breasts and make them more youthful,” she said. “We can do implants or lifts, fat transfer, or a combination of them. Sometimes women just need a little extra volume. We can do anything that women need.”
In Colorado’s health-conscious environment, men, too, are benefiting from plastic surgery. Many want tummy tucks so they can show off svelte abs without worrying about excess belly fat and skin.
“I love helping my patients achieve a goal that they can’t reach on their own,” Zaluzec said. “Maybe they have an anatomical variance. Maybe they are dealing with asymmetry on their face or body. My goal is always to help patients look and feel their best.”
A long-distance romance with a Hollywood twist
Zaluzec, 37, has much in common with many of her younger patients. She’s a newlywed, a new mom and her family is new to Denver.
She met her husband Ben Metcalfe, also 37, back in 2014.
“It’s a modern-day love story. We met online,” Zaluzec said with a smile.
Slammed with her medical training, Zaluzec had had little time to date. During a break on one of her crazy 30-hour shifts, she spotted Metcalfe on an online dating site.
“You’re cute,” she thought to herself before swiping.
The two started texting. Zaluzec learned that Metcalfe was also an athlete. Growing up, she played softball, ran, did gymnastics and swam. Metcalfe had been a swimmer in college and had competed in Ironman competitions. While the two had a lot in common, Zaluzec learned that Metcalfe lived in Oregon. So, she expected little to come from their easy online banter.
Then, came the rom-com twist.
Metcalfe was in Chicago to help his sister. She had moved to Illinois after completing her post-doctoral work in high-energy particle physics and was living in Bolingbrook. That’s the town outside Chicago where Zaluzec grew up, one of five kids.
The plot thickened.
Zaluzec’s father, a world-famous physicist, works at the same lab where Metcalfe’s sister was starting her new position. Zaluzec’s brother also works there as a technology specialist.
“This is crazy. Your sister lives in the town where I grew up and works in the same lab with my dad and brother,” Zaluzec told Metcalfe. “Now, we have to meet.”
They did, fell in love and over two years, kept the sparks flying during a long-distance romance.
Blessed with twins while finishing demanding plastic surgery residency
Zaluzec didn’t have any time to travel, but thankfully, Metcalfe’s job in information technology was flexible and he could adapt to Zaluzec’s schedule. He ultimately moved to Chicago. The couple then decided to start their family while Zaluzec finished the final year of her plastic surgery residency.
Their twins arrived 16 months ago. They have a girl named Riley and a boy named Mason. He loves running and climbing. She’s into puzzles and Legos. Mason’s a cuddly mama’s boy and Riley’s an independent extrovert.
Finishing her fellowship while pregnant with twins was a challenge, but Zaluzec’s stamina helped her forge ahead.
“It was exciting and overwhelming. My training program was awesome. They supported me throughout my pregnancy. Normally, you work 70-to-80 hours a week. I had to cut back to 40 hours toward the end of my pregnancy, but I stayed at work all the way through,” Zaluzec said.
The twins arrived healthy and each weighing nearly 6 pounds in the spring of 2019.
“I was working on a Wednesday. They were born on a Thursday.”
The timing ended up being excellent. Zaluzec was able to take a 3-month maternity leave, then the family packed up and moved to Austin, Texas where Zaluzec did an additional year of specialty training in aesthetic surgery.
“I was lucky enough to have a really supportive environment there too,” Zaluzec said.
She wanted to provide breastmilk for her babies as long as possible and made it to 14 months.
“I pumped for the babies and was also able to achieve my career goals,” Zaluzec said.
A pandemic wedding, then a cross-country move
Zaluzec wrapped up her fellowship in aesthetic surgery in June.
The couple had been busy remotely planning for a summer wedding back in Chicago. Then, the pandemic forced major changes.
“We had quite an elaborate wedding planned for 150 people at the Chicago Botanic Gardens,” Zaluzec said.
They had to scale down to family only and could include only 16 people. Zaluzec, Metcalfe and their families all took tests to make sure they didn’t have COVID-19 and Zaluzec had a lace mask made to match her wedding gown.
“There were times when I was sad, missing my best friends and the important people who weren’t there. But, my thought was, ‘This hopefully is a short period in the grand scheme of things in life. The most important thing to me is that the people I care about stay healthy,’” Zaluzec said.
The next stop in their pandemic adventure was a move to Denver.
“The babies did great. We literally drove 16 hours straight,” Zaluzec said.
Highlights: Some of Dr. Rebekah Zaluzec’s procedures
Now Zaluzec is getting settled into the family’s new home in Denver and can’t wait to help Coloradans transform their bodies and their lives.
She expects to help many women with breast reconstruction.
“I love using my hands to help my patients and being part of their healing process,” Zaluzec said. “When patients are going through cancer, you’re able to be part of the team that gives them hope for their future.”
Zaluzec offers the full spectrum of options for breast cancer survivors.
“Some women opt not to do reconstruction. Others want it and still, others need their older reconstructions updated or want implants removed for other reasons. I can help make a woman feel comfortable in her body after cancer in whatever form that means for her,” Zaluzec said. “It’s an opportunity not to feel incomplete as a woman.”
Both for reconstructive breast surgery and cosmetic procedures, Zaluzec said women can select the option that feels right and most natural to them.
Implants are safe, she said. Women can also choose to use fat from their own bodies to augment their breasts or replace tissue lost to cancer surgery.
“We use liposuction to take fat from elsewhere in the body,” Zaluzec said.
That procedure is known as autologous fat transfer and patients have the added benefit of getting to remove fat if they don’t want it somewhere else on their body.
Along with breast surgeries, tummy tucks also are quite popular, Zaluzec said.
“There are different degrees of tummy tucks. Some people want bikini bodies. For others, there’s excess skin and pain, discomfort or itchiness from weight loss. We can help people feel comfortable again,” Zaluzec said.
“If you’re a patient who has had massive weight loss or you are post-partum, there are some things you can’t change on your own, like excess skin or separated abdominal muscles. We can pull the core muscles back together and put things back where they were,” she said.
Plastic surgery expert in Cherry Creek
Zaluzec will be able to do all of her procedures at the Cherry Creek Medical Center. She’s excited to care for patients in a new, beautiful building that has all the newest high-tech equipment.
Among the devices that the Cherry Creek center boasts are CoolSculpting, which helps remove fat, and EMSculpting, which can tighten and tone and “make you feel like you did a million crunches,” Zaluzec said.
Along with surgeries, Zaluzec and others at the center will also do an array of non-invasive procedures like Botox, laser resurfacing and skin texturizing to reduce sun spots and discoloration.
“I’m also planning to offer a thread lift. It’s a minimally invasive way to lift the face before you get to a face lift. We can also do in-office liposuction for small areas,” she said.
For patients who are considering plastic surgery and other cosmetic procedures, Zaluzec’s chief advice is to be careful about selecting a qualified doctor.
“Choose a plastic surgeon who has had full training in plastic and reconstructive surgery,” she said. “You will see people advertising themselves as cosmetic surgeons when they haven’t gone through the proper training.”
Whether patients need help with surgeries or non-invasive procedures, Zaluzec’s goal always is to empower her patients. Her philosophies circle back to her love of fitness.
“I love Pilates. I love weight and strength training. I’m a runner and I do spin classes,” Zaluzec said. “I love for women to feel strong and independent and to maintain strength throughout our lives.”