One cold, grey morning last week, Dr Tilman Stasch, a disconcerting 6’4” tall dapper chap, showed me around their modern-chic clinic on Grosvenor Building, 14-Riverside.
At the clinic, they do a number of plastic surgeries that include breast enlargement, breast uplift, nipple surgery and breast reconstruction, among others. They also do tummy tucks, liposuction, arm lifts and facial surgeries that include anything from facelifts to ear correction. Then there is botox treatment, mole mapping (for skin cancer) and various cosmetic medicine.
What they try to do at Valentis Clinic is grounded on their motto that is borrowed from a Mark Twain quote: “The finest clothing made is a person’s own skin, but of course, society demands something more from us.”
Later we sat in his large-windowed, light flooded, office where tea was served on saucered bone china cups, off a silver tray. Mark Twain would have been proud.
That’s a fantastic watch. Which brand is it?
Oh thank you! It’s a Fredrique Constant. Bought it for my 40th birthday.
Who is Dr Tilman Stasch? Sounds like a villain in a Bond movie!
(Laughs) I grew up in Germany until I was 18 when we moved to Namibia. I studied medicine in Cape Town, stayed there for seven years then went back to Namibia for a one-year internship. I left for the UK where I trained as a general surgeon and then crossed over to Germany where I got my experience and where I now have a clinic.
What drew you to this type of surgery?
I just loved it. Here I enter a different universe – detailed surgery through the microscope that needs specialised training. It’s the level of accuracy involved to achieve amazing things.
Hand surgery, for instance, is big in Europe, but very complex involving soft tissues, arteries, bones.... I’ve spent many hours replanting fingers on hands during my training. I’m located in Germany where I run another clinic and so I have been swinging between Kenya and Germany since we opened this clinic three years ago which means I have not had a day off. (Laughs).
I do pro-bono work at Kenyatta National Hospital, mostly burn surgery, but my focus here is mostly skin-related conditions and reconstructive surgeries.
Our foundation, together with KACSU [Kenya Albino Child Support] and Albinism Society of Kenya is also heavily involved in screening drives for people living with albinism. This is something we are very passionate about here.
Because Don Othoro, my business partner, invited me over. We met 20 years ago in University of Cape Town then went to the UK together and started some businesses there. We have always been close pals, so when he asked I thought why not?
Of all these disciplines what do you enjoy the most?
I do a lot of skin cancer training, mole mapping to be precise. Screening discovers cancers early and can save lives.
Is it a myth that Africans really don’t need to apply sunscreen because we have melanin?
There is certainly a huge protective value with your pigment. But you know, and please you can do a fact check on this, Bob Marley died of a melanoma (cancer) on his toes. At least that’s what I’ve read, which means people of colour still have a high risk of getting melanoma on the palms of hands and feet. One of the residents is doing a study on the same at Kenyatta National Hospital for patients who have had melanoma for the past 20 years.
What gets your engines really fired up?
Uhm, a busy day? (Laughs). I love to see my patients. I love to work. I also love sports. I play a lot of football when in Germany. I haven’t discovered where to play here...or if I can even get the time. Another thing is kite surfing, love it! I just came back from the Coast. Over the weekends I also do horse riding in Karen. Do you horse-ride?
Oh gosh, no!
(Laughs) I try to do all these amazing things in Kenya because it’s so beautiful. Back in Germany I do skiing in winter.
Is that how you keep lean?
I keep lean by not having breakfast, skipping lunch and then having KFC late at night after surgery. (Laughs) Oh God, it’s terrible. Look, I don’t think I’m lean because of my great eating habits. I’m just too busy to eat. But when I do, I watch what I eat which also gives me energy.
How common is botox usage in Nairobi?
Even among black folk?
What about boob jobs?
Yes, quite common as well. We do a lot of breast reduction, what we call “mummy makeover.” You have had babies, the woman used to love her body, then the body changes and she stops being so happy with it, so she comes here and says, “I don’t like what I see, can you help?”
I encourage people to go to the gym and change their lifestyles and often there is an improvement, but you don’t always get it perfectly right and if they want to get something done they come here. So we do lots of breast reductions, tummy tucks.... very common procedure.
Do you also have men coming here for tummy tucks?
Yes, a few, but normally for men the abdominal fat is inside not outside and so less prominent. Mostly guys between 40 and 50 years. But what men come for is to have their “man boobs” taken care of – when they grow breast tissue and it doesn’t go no matter what they eat or how much gym they engage in.
You know it’s important to note the psychological impact on some of these people. For example, women have had to reduce their breasts because of the trauma suffered from the back and neck pains, and sweating that come from all the weight. Tummy tuck patients with huge hanging bellies which are so heavy might not operate well with that.
I have had male patients who haven’t taken their shirts off in public since teenage years because of man boobs, and they benefit greatly from surgery. It’s a big revelation physically and psychologically, not to mention a confidence booster.
But where do you draw the line because each one of us have body issues, something we would like to change. When do you say no, I won’t do that for you?
Of course there are ethical reasons. You know if a young patient comes who appears to my eye as perfectly fine and says, “Look, when I laugh I get wrinkles at the side of my eye, can you fix that?” And of course I can’t because come on, you are 22 and your eyes are fine. It comes to a point where the doctor has to show responsibility and not just take the money. If the request will not enhance the person, I won’t do it.
If you were to alter a part of your body, what would that be?
I’m quite happy with my body right now, but if I wasn’t happy I’d hit the gym.
What’s the biggest fear your harbour?
Losing my health. I appreciate every day that I wake up and work.
I like this linen thing going on with you. What informs your sense of style?
Why thanks. I try to be sporty elegant. You know, I like the Italian way of dressing unfortunately Italian suits don’t fit me because I’m too tall. (Laughs). I like elegant, but modern. I always wear a suit, to represent the professionalism. I think I try to make an effort.
No, still out there, looking. (Laughs)
Say, do you have ladies walking in here wanting to lift their bums.... I don’t know, have bigger bums?
(Laughs) Yes, it’s called The Brazilian butt lift, but I call it the Kenyan butt lift. It’s an enhancement of the butt. I mean since Kim Kardashian it’s been quite a thing some women come in for. We have done quite a few.
My goodness, that’s cheating!
(Laughs) You know the thing with these kind of surgeries is that it has to be safe and shouldn’t affect your health adversely. You also have to do it with well-trained doctors because you don’t want to botch up such kind of exercises.
Sorry to drag you back, but out of curiosity, how much does it cost for a Brazilian, er, Kenyan butt lift?
Well, the rates are pretty much what you will be charged in Europe, which is about 5,000 euros or thereabout.
So does a butt that has been lifted still feel the same under touch?
Of course it does. We don’t use silicon, we simply use excess fat from parts of the body to lift it, so it feels natural.