By Courtney Rae Kasper
Carefully placed on the center wall of the waiting room in Dr. Susan Merola-McConn’s Living Proof Longevity Centre in Fayetteville hangs a gold framed reproduction of Florentine painter Sandro Botticelli’s 1482 “Primavera.” This iconic image of voluptuous Venus “watching over the garden” is one that the Executive Vice President of North Medical said represents the principle of her practice — the celebration and rejuvenation of womanhood.
The Centre’s logo is also a famous illustration of femininity, the nude “Three Graces” sculpture, which depicts the virtues of beauty, charm and joy in a linked affectionate embrace of female bonding. “Women struggle to be who they really are because they perceive that society wants them to fit into some niche or role,” Merola-McConn said. “It’s OK for us to be women. We can still pave the way in society and do successful things.”
As a nurturer by nature and the daughter of a well-established local physician, Merola-McConn has always felt led to women’s healthcare, and she’s been a pioneer for women’s health in the Syracuse area throughout her 20-year medical career. (And she hopes her children follow suit: her son is in his third year of medical school and her daughter is in the process of applying to medical schools.)
While in medical school at St. George’s University in Grenada, she was one of nine women in the class. Now, 50 percent of medical students are women. By the time she joined her family’s practice in 1989, she had already given birth to her two children — an action that was unheard of for women lucky enough to be in the medical field at that time, Merola-McConn said. And even though she entered medicine as a primary care and family medicine physician, many female patients at Northeast Medical Center were naturally drawn to her practice.
In 1998, she spearheaded the establishment of The Women’s Place within her family-owned Northeast Medical Center, a practice devoted to the unique healthcare issues females at all stages of womanhood face. “I wanted to combine everything for the woman in the new space, so grandma could come with her granddaughter who might be getting pediatric care and grandma might be going to the gynecologist and the mother could be going for obstetrical care for her next child,” she said. “Being able to take care of the whole female from birth to death is the key.”
With the addition of Living Proof in 2000, she and her husband Dr. Mark McConn, chief medical officer of North Medical, now provide physician-supervised and performed preventative aging programs and services to help patients proactively manage hormonal and physical changes. (Think: Botox, Latisse, Medifast, bio-identical hormone replacement therapy, laser treatments, bariatrics, skincare.) “I see women at the center of their family. I want to help my female patients understand that it’s OK to ask for help, it’s OK to want this. It doesn’t mean that you’re vain, unhealthy or cheating, it means you’re optimizing and why shouldn’t we if it’s medically safe,” she said. Most recently added to the menu of nonsurgical procedures is CoolSculpting, the first-ever fat-freezing device.
Over the past several years, Merola-McConn has witnessed an increase in patients, both men and women, interested in nonsurgical alternatives. “Some people are just afraid of surgery and others consider noninvasive as natural,” she said. So after learning about CoolSculpting at a conference in Miami two years ago, she thought it was too good to be true. “I looked at all of the research and data, and I called docs [who provide CoolSculpting] and decided it was another modality to add to our compliment of services,” she said.
As of last August, Living Proof is still the only CoolSculpting provider in the Central New York region, and Merola-McConn is already beginning repeat sessions after patients’ initial treatments have been successful. “It’s pretty amazing the results we can get without doing surgery, needles or downtime,” she added.
Being a female who’s been on every diet and gained and lost many times over, Merola-McConn prides herself on practicing what she preaches. “I don’t promote anything I haven’t tried myself, within reason,” she said. Unhappy with the dimpling left from liposuction, she used CoolSculpting to smooth the lumpy areas. “I’ve really been motivated by my own journey into preventative health,” she said. But she’s careful to make sure that each patient understands that she’s not here to offer quick fixes. “I promise a patient their results, but they always want more, who doesn’t. So I really harp on that because I don’t want them to be disappointed,” she said.
With each patient’s care and safety at the core of her practice, Merola-McConn is always on the lookout for cutting-edge therapies to compliment the hard work it takes to stay healthy. Currently on her radar is using low-light lasers to shrink fat cells, as new research shows that doing so might decrease leptin levels, the fat-produced hormone that regulates body fat and interacts with brain-controlled hunger cues. On the skin rejuvenation front is using platelet-rich plasma as a facial filler and taking fibroblasts from the patient’s own body and reimplanting lab-grown cells, not stem cells, back into the patient’s face to stimulate collagen growth, she said.
“After the hard work of losing weight, fixing hormones, optimizing health by whatever method it is, I love being able to give them back that healthy glow. It’s powerful and exciting for women to be able to have that,” Merola-McConn added.
And innovating the space in which her patients receive individual care was all part of the plan when she designed her Italian-inspired office space more than 15 years ago. “I practiced the first 10 years at North Medical and always thought, ‘why do we have to have such a sterile, concerning, ominous environment?’ I liked the idea of juxtaposing antiquity with modern in a home-like environment. I thought it would make people more comfortable,” she said. Her favorite element: paneled murals of the rolling Tuscan landscape painted to represent the “path to wellness” that Merola-McConn helps each patient reach through customized care.