Samuel M. Lam, MD, provides beautiful faces in an equally appealing facility
Beauty isn’t only skin deep. It extends all the way into the innermost workings of the human body—or, if you prefer, it starts at the anatomic level and radiates outward to the surface. Either way, Dallas aesthetic plastic surgeon Samuel M. Lam, MD, embraces the notion that beauty and health are inextricably linked, which is at the heart of why he not long ago built a facility called the Willow Bend Wellness Center.
Described by Lam as an “unconventional 21st-century medical center,” Willow Bend brings together independent practitioners from diverse health and beauty fields under a single roof, with the aim of creating synergy among them.
Located in the Texas city of Plano, on the northern outskirts of Dallas, the two-story, 27,000-square-foot facility houses Lam’s office suites, his full-service outpatient surgery center, a hair-restoration clinic, a medical spa, and a mesotherapy institute, in addition to several independent entities, including an upmarket aesthetic general-dentistry practice as well as an exclusive skin-care shop and a premium hair salon—the latter bearing the name of famed Beverly Hills coiffeur José Eber.
“This is the first José Eber Atelier to open outside California, and it fits perfectly with the Willow Bend Wellness Center concept of a one-stop shop for high-end elective care,” says Lam. “Willow Bend is boutique medicine, where consumers find fully integrated, comprehensive aesthetic services.”
The concept of the Willow Bend Wellness Center arose from several influences. One was Lam’s fellowship director, whose own practice was situated in a very large building—almost as large as Willow Bend. Another was Lam’s love of big, bold mid-20th-century international-style architecture and interior design (although Willow Bend itself isn’t of that exact mold). Also, there was Lam’s mother—a real estate developer with much experience putting up and leasing out shopping centers. (His mom, by the way, serves as the practice’s office manager and the leasing agent for Willow Bend.)
In 2001, Lam bought the land upon which Willow Bend would rise. He saw it as an ideal location because of its immediate proximity to well-heeled neighborhoods, full of mansions and dripping with disposable income. “Plano itself is currently rated as one of the most affluent cities in the United States,” he says. “We’ve got two important new hospitals, so people also see Plano as a strong medical community. And our good schools attract a lot of Asian families—Asians make up between 30% and 40% of my practice.”
Lam’s timing for purchasing the parcel was impeccable: As he recounts, that section of Plano was then sparsely populated but stood in the path of onrushing explosive growth from Dallas. Now, there’s scarcely a vacant lot to be had anywhere in the area.
The site also was a savvy buy because a major shopping mall—with prestigious tenants such as Nieman-Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue—went up directly across the street, bringing exactly the type of consumer an aesthetic plastic surgeon needs to attract virtually to Lam’s doorstep. As a bonus, Willow Bend is situated within eyeshot of the intersection of two major arterial highways traversed daily by commuters from the tony surrounding communities.
In conceptualizing the facility, Lam’s dominant challenge was to come up with something large enough to accommodate several different providers, yet not so large as to detract from its boutique ambiance. Thus, the talents of a professional architect were used to translate Lam’s ideas into actual blueprints. What emerged was a distinctive, triangular-shaped building—perched on stilts—that has a strong presence when viewed from the street.
It was important to Lam that “the entire building evoke an ‘organic’ feel,” he says. Accordingly, rocks, wood, and water are used to great effect throughout. For example, the building is accented with a limestone exterior facade; limestone also figures prominently in the interior design scheme, first and foremost in the form of an 18- x 8-foot hand-carved waterfall in the lobby. A nearly identical cascade outside drops into a pond brimming with koi and ringed by a variety of trees native to Japan.
It’s an airy office as well, thanks in part to floor-to-ceiling windows everywhere, the beauty of which is set off by wood flooring in all rooms. Absent is any sense of clinical office sterility; Lam’s decision to light his space with incandescent rather than fluorescent bulbs is part of the reason for this.
Lam declines to divulge what he spent on Willow Bend, other than to say that it cost a lot. “Doctors who construct offices for themselves typically skimp on the interior build-out in order to save money,” he says. “When they do, they often end up with something drab. I didn’t skimp.”
When Fat Is Good
Lam took occupancy in the Willow Bend Wellness Center during the second quarter of 2004. This past August, he opened a satellite office about 15minutes away in Dallas, on a stretch of boulevard lined with plastic surgery practices.
Office number two is a fraction of the size of Willow Bend and does not resemble the wellness center in the least. “My satellite is inside an historic mansion that became a dental office, so, for it, I adopted a more eclectic style that includes a lot of elements tracing back to ancient China,” he explains.
Regardless of which office he is in, Lam—who is certified by the American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and by the American Board of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery—makes surgery of the face his sole specialty. “I’m totally focused on state-of-the-art techniques for facial enhancement, including minimal- to no-incision procedures like thread and suture lifting and fat grafting,” he says.
Lam disfavors using only traditional approaches to facial surgery. That’s because, in many cases, “tried-and-true” methods typically result in the unacceptable loss of precious tissue without concurrent volume replacement. With tissue preservation as the goal, Lam instead emphasizes fat grafting, which, he says, not only preserves tissue but actually restores what was stolen by the ravages of time.
He spells this out in Complementary Fat Grafting, a textbook he recently completed. “The book redefines how the aging face should optimally be addressed through a systematic method of facial volume enhancement using one’s own body fat,” he says.
“Most surgical procedures have been almost the antithesis of rejuvenation,” Lam continues. “Take blepharoplasty: It’s contingent on removing tissue, and the result is a hollowed-out, cadaverous look that makes you actually look older. What we’re doing now when we have to remove skin and fat is to do so very conservatively and then graft fat into place around that area to restore the rich, lush, sensuous padding that was there at youth. I’ve titled the book Complementary Fat Grafting because I see fat grafting as a complement to traditional procedures, not as a replacement for them.”
The successes he has seen with fat grafting in his own practice and those of peers convince Lam that, “We are at the cusp of a real paradigm shift in the way that we view the aging face.”
East Meets West
Lam attracts a sizable base of Asian patients only partly because he is of Asian descent. The main reason is that he is an internationally recognized authority on improving the appearance of the Asian face. “There are fine nuances to working with the Asian face,” says Lam, who trained abroad under prominent Asian surgeons.
The differences inherent to operating on the faces of men and women from or with roots tracing back to the Far East are delineated in another Lam-authored textbook, Cosmetic Surgery of the Asian Face (2nd edition), which holds the distinction of being the only English-language textbook on the subject. Its translation into Korean is due to be completed soon.
Before delving into the technical aspects of working with the Asian face, this book offers a wealth of insights about the cultural motivations underlying Asians’ requests for certain procedures—for instance, they may request an enhanced nose not for beauty’s sake but because in traditional Asian culture a prominent nose is a sign of wealth or an augur of good fortune to come. Similarly, dimples are seen as evidence of fertility and thus are deemed helpful to one’s prospects for marrying well.
On the subject of textbooks, the first one Lam wrote was Com-prehensive Facial Reju-venation: A Practical and Systematic Guide to Surgical Management of the Aging Face. It in-cludes detailed explanations of Lam’s techniques for surgical rejuvenation, rhinoplasty, hair restoration, and skin-care therapies. The first two chapters are devoted to explaining business processes as a foundation for clinical success.
Says Lam, “Some of the business-oriented topics include discussions of how many square feet you need for each of the various rooms in an office and how to establish a solid working relationship with an aesthetician.”
Lam chose to practice in the Dallas market because that’s his hometown. He was the valedictorian of his high-school class, and he started along the path toward a career in medicine after graduating in 1991 from Princeton University with a degree in history. Upon returning to Texas, he went through medical school at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, receiving his MD degree in 1995.
For the next 6 years, Lam trained in head and neck surgery at Columbia University. From there, he pursued a competitive postgraduate fellowship in facial plastic and reconstructive surgery, augmenting that with time spent studying with Asian surgeons overseas. He entered private practice in 2002, initially using office space shared with his father, a family physician.
A Man of Many Passions
Art is a big part of Lam’s life. Adorn-ing the walls of the Willow Bend Wellness Center are more than 150 canvases, all of which he painted. Lam also illustrated each of his three textbooks, not to mention many of the more than 90 peer-reviewed journal articles he has written. “My medical illustrations are all about the clarity of the line for communicative purposes, whereas my paintings are about the celebration of color,” he says.
Lam is as skilled with a camera as he is with pen and brush. His favorite form of photography is the underwater variety—some of his breathtaking below-the-surface images were published not long ago in the Miami Herald. Capturing underwater shots requires the ability to scuba dive, which Lam possesses—in fact, he holds an official certification as a divemaster.
Passionate though he is about his various outside interests, Lam’s enthusiasm for them is eclipsed by his love of sharing knowledge. For example, in partnership with Gustavo Leibaschoff, MD, Lam recently opened the Advanced Aesthetic Academy, based at the Willow Bend Wellness Center, to teach physicians and surgeons diverse aesthetic procedures such as thread lifting and fat grafting.
He also conducts the Lam Institute Training Program, which he started with hair-transplant coordinator Emina Karamanovski. The program aims to teach surgeons and technicians in the United States and abroad the intricacies of the hair-restoration technique he and Karamanovski use in his practice. “Emina and I have been preaching the benefits of our combination graft approach that I believe can provide unsurpassed hair density with a seamlessly natural result in only one session,” he says.
The more than 50 lectures Lam has given in the United States and around the world have covered a variety of scientific topics. Some of his most enthusiastically received discourses have zeroed in on the latest rejuvenation-surgery techniques for the aging face. Of keen interest too are Lam’s lectures on medical-spa development; he previously served on the educational committee for the Medical Spa Professional Alliance.
Meanwhile, an aspect of the Willow Bend Wellness Center still to be fully cultivated is wellness. Lam hopes to remedy that soon by adding tenants whose practices are geared toward helping consumers achieve optimal good health so that they can truly radiate beauty.
Says Lam, “A favorite quote of mine is, ‘Vision without action is only a dream; action without vision is merely passing time; but vision with action can change the world.’ That’s how I feel about the Willow Bend Wellness Center—it’s a vision supported by certainly some very strategic action. In time, I’m confident it will help bring about a changed world. Even at this early juncture, the Willow Bend Wellness Center demonstrates how medicine can be conceived differently and still succeed.” PSP
Rich Smith is a contributing writer for Plastic Surgery Products.T
he tenants of the Willow Bend Wellness Center in Plano, Tex, are by and large independent of one another, so they are responsible for conducting their own marketing outreach programs to drive traffic through their respective doors. However, the synergistic aspect of having these separate providers congregated in a single building means that there are pllenty of cross-promotion opportunities.
“We each have the brochures of the other tenants on display in our individual spaces,” says center owner Samuel M. Lam, MD. “Sometimes when I appear on local television, I do so accompanied by one or more other tenants. Sometimes, we jointly contribute in publicity efforts, such as when we participated in an extreme makeover project on the local CBS television station this past June and July.”
Lam is referring to a multipart series that the station’s news division aired during its late-afternoon and evening newscasts. It was developed in cooperation with a Dallas radio station, which recruited the recipient of the makeover via a month-long promotional event. The winner of that contest was a woman from the town of Crowley, Tex. Lam’s role was to perform brow and eyelid rejuvenation, aesthetic nose surgery, lip enhancement, and neck liposuction.
As it happened, the contest winner possessed the right mix of physical features and factors to help Lam give her a good result. “One of the challenges of an extreme-makeover contest is in coming up with people who have the right anatomy—and who have a diversity of readily addressable aesthetic problems—so that all of the providers involved can contribute something of value to the makeover effort.”
Buoyed by the success of that project, Lam is next slated to appear in a weekly local television show called Second Chance, which begins in 2006. Each 30-minute installment will focus on a different Dallas-area resident with a debilitating aesthetic problem or deformity that Lam and other providers will attempt to ameliorate, if not rectify. “It’s intended to tell emotionally engaging stories about people who for reasons of hardship or adversity can’t afford but very much could benefit from the kinds of services available at the Willow Bend Wellness Center,” he says, adding that the program will be carried on the NBC affiliate in Dallas.