Longform

Growing Pains

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Like other urologists who later began performing the surgery, Safford started by watching the work of Dr. Harold Reed. Reed, who had imported certain surgical techniques to his Miami practice from China in 1991, was claiming to elongate penises by as much as two inches and increase their girth by 30 percent or more. While the surgery also saw its share of medical setbacks (in 1993 a Miami lounge singer had his penis enlarged as a nice surprise for his wife but died instead), Safford became convinced of the operation's potential.

"I watched Dr. Reed for four or five years," he recalls. "I wanted to make sure he was honest and professional. I determined he was. Then, in February 1993, I went and spent time with him and watched him work personally."

Within months of returning to Denver, Safford hired a public-relations expert to notify local media of his plans to offer penile-enchancement surgery. He began advertising heavily in local papers and, in September 1993, started cutting.

The procedure takes about two hours, during which time fat is extracted from the man's buttocks or legs and then injected into his penis. Patients can resume sex in five weeks. Sometimes, as part of his follow-up care, Safford recommends that men use the P.L.D. Hangman, a weighted device that hangs from the post-operative penis and ensures maximum lengthening. "You're not well-hung until you've been hung by the Hangman," is the company's trademarked slogan.

Safford originally performed the operation as a sideline to his urology practice. Soon, though, he was handling fewer routine urology cases and more elective cosmetic sur-geries; today they make up about 90 percent of his work. Some of his penile surgeries, he adds, remain medically necessitated repair work as the result of accidents rather than cosmetic considerations. Locally, Safford's dramatic shift in professional focus was like Wolfgang Puck agreeing to hawk Olestra or Carl Sagan writing an astrology column, and there has been some fallout. "People don't like medical pioneers, and Denver is a conservative community," he says. "There are people who want to see me fail.

"For the past three years I've put my heart and my soul and my own money into this project, and I don't want anything to jeopardize it," he adds. "I'm working hard to make this work. I'm pioneering a whole new area here."

But even Safford will concede that exploring new frontiers can lead to some surprises. Seeking synergy, for instance, he started off by liposuctioning patients' flanks for the fat to be injected into the penis. While this pleased men concerned about their penis size and their love handles, it turned out that side fat was not very compatible with penises. "I ended up doing more touchups than I expected," Safford says.

Despite such early setbacks, though, the sur-geries have had their financial rewards. Safford has opened a second office in Houston, his hometown; he maintains a monopoly on the procedure in Colorado, and many patients come here from out of state. Each pays upwards of $7,000 for the operation ($1,700 nonrefundable deposit, personal checks not accepted, financing available). Recently, he began performing cosmetic liposuction for men in addition to his penis work.

Safford says his rising success can be traced to more liberal attitudes toward men and their emotional needs, which have been too long neglected. "There's been a change in society, where men can now go in and do something to feel good about themselves," he explains. "Traditionally, men have been unable to express themselves, to women and to other men." Some of this is the fault of women. "Men can hurt you physically," he says. "Women can destroy you mentally. They leave scars on these guys.

"The biggest motivating factor I see among men coming in for this procedure is low self-esteem," he continues. "I've got Fortune 500 executives running big, powerful companies who are being eaten alive on the inside by terrible self-esteem."

Safford, who distributes writings by self-image guru (and cosmetic surgeon) Dr. Maxwell Maltz to prospective patients, offers himself as a prime example. He says that years of neglecting an earlier weightlifting habit left him with saggy breasts and, consequently, feelings of social embarrassment and self-doubt. The lamentable result: "I've never been able to wear alligator shirts," he says. He adds that he hopes to have his breasts and his self-esteem surgically repaired when he has time.

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Eric Dexheimer
Contact: Eric Dexheimer