TOXIC TRUTH: 'My boobs were making me sick'
WHEN Ashleigh Phelan woke up from surgery, she took a deep breath in and could feel the air fill her lungs.
"I haven't been able to do that for six years," she said.
Since she was 18 years old, the Mackay woman has been on a nightmarish journey to reclaim her health.
For years she has suffered with ongoing health and immunity issues, ranging from chronic neck and back pain, asthma, tonsillitis, chronic sinus, recurring infections and trouble breathing.
Always a healthy girl and passionate about fitness, Ms Phelan was baffled as to why her body had changed so significantly.
But it was a trip to the emergency room a few months ago that opened her eyes to the invisible illness her body was fighting.
"I had just arrived home from work and I was feeling unwell, but that was pretty normal for me," she said.
"It was when I took off my shirt to go for a shower that I noticed my left breast was swollen and red and had a hard lump.
"By the time I got to hospital I had severe chest pain and felt like I couldn't breathe.
"An ultrasound revealed my breast implant had rippled and there was fluid surrounding the implant.
"I got told I might need surgery, but there was no sense of urgency. Doctors basically said to me that it was pretty normal for this to happen to an implant.
"But I knew how I was feeling was not normal."
During a trip home to Mackay, Ms Phelan booked an appointment with a breast specialist.
She was advised to remove her implants or have them replaced with new ones.
But she said not a single doctor took her concerns about breast implant illness seriously.
"I was told by several doctors that breast implant illness is not a recognised medical condition and that my health problems were probably not related to my implants," Ms Phelan said.
"It kind of makes you feel a bit crazy after a while because you know you are sick, but when you are constantly told by health professionals that nothing is wrong with you, you kind of get tricked into thinking that."
After weeks of appointments, Ms Phelan finally found a specialist on the Gold Coast who she said was more "open-minded".
"He said that although breast implant illness was not a recognised medical condition, he could not deny that many of his patients would have their implants removed and immediately have all of their symptoms go away," she said.
"When I heard that I knew what I had to do."
Two weeks ago Ms Phelan underwent surgery to have her breast implants removed.
She said it was the best decision she had ever made.
"When I woke up I felt like I could breath better immediately," she said.
"I was always shallow breathing when I had my implants, it felt like I couldn't properly take a deep breath in and now I can.
"I've also noticed the whites of my eyes are brighter, my skin is less dull and my back and neck pain has completely disappeared.
"I used to struggle to hop out of bed in the morning because my back would be hurting so much. I genuinely feel like a new version of myself now."
The decision to have plastic surgery at 18 was not one Ms Phelan said she took lightly.
But after receiving a number of cruel comments about her 'flat chest' while growing up, it seemed the perfect solution to help boost her confidence.
"If you had asked me what I wanted most in life when I was 16 I would have told you boobs," she said.
"I knew there were risks involved with the surgery but at the time it was my dream to have a big bust because I thought it would make me feel like I was enough.
"Now I look back and I don't even recognise that girl. I realise now that breast implants were the last thing that would have made me more confident or attractive.
"I was already a unique version of myself and that was more than enough."
The 24 year old's battle for answers has inspired Ms Phelan to spread her message to other women about the potential risks of breast implants.
She is determined to help young girls realise "health is sexier than boobs will ever be".
Following her recent surgery, Ms Phelan was told her left implant capsule was severely abnormal.
Doctors confirmed her body had attempted to 'reject' the implant which has since been sent away for further testing and pathology.