Tattoo Removal Helps Former Gang Members Escape Their PastPlastic Surgeons "Give Back" to Their Communities

NEW YORK, NY (December 3, 2003) — Tattoos are often a mandatory initiation ritual for gang members, but gang-related "wearable art" can make later assimilation into "normal society" difficult.

In 1995, plastic surgeon Edmund Cabbabe, MD, a member of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), removed a gang tattoo from the forearm of a teenager who wanted to keep his job in a restaurant and needed to "erase" his past. For Dr. Cabbabe, who practices in St. Louis, MO, it was the start of an enduring commitment to helping young people start over. "After laser tattoo removal, these kids have more confidence in themselves, they get jobs and even go back to school," says Dr. Cabbabe. "Just as important," he continued, "they are no longer risking their lives walking around with a gang billboard on their faces, hands, or arms."

Another ASAPS member, Douglas Gervais, MD, has participated in the "Getting Out" program offered by the Boys and Girls Club in Minneapolis, MN, for the past three years. "The kids in this program go through rehabilitation, work study, and then they go back to school; they work very hard to make better lives for themselves and their families," says Dr. Gervais. "The final phase of the program is that they are offered the opportunity to lose the stigma of their gangs - the one they have to see every time they roll up their sleeves or look in the mirror."

Lasers have become one of the most common methods for tattoo removal because they offer a "bloodless," low risk, highly effective treatment with minimal side effects. The procedure is done on an outpatient basis. If the doctors were not donating their time and services, the average price of laser tattoo removal would range between $300-$600 per session, and 3-to-10 sessions might be required to remove a tattoo. Most commonly, the Q-switch ruby laser or the Nd:Yag laser is used for tattoo removal. The success of the treatment depends on the color of the tattoo and the depth of the ink placement. Following tattoo removal, changes in skin texture or scarring are possible, but rare.

Dr. Cabbabe and Dr. Gervais both have been awarded the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery's Certificate of Special Recognition for Community Service and Volunteerism. ASAPS initiated this certificate program, in 2002, to recognize and encourage ASAPS members' contributions to their communities. In the past year, 88 ASAPS surgeons have received the certificate. Nine of the ASAPS certificate recipients are involved in programs to remove tattoos from former gang members.

"Aesthetic plastic surgeons give back to their communities in many ways," says ASAPS President Robert Bernard, MD, of White Plains, NY. "Often, their contributions help restore a normal appearance to people who otherwise would be unable to afford treatment."

To see a list of all other recipients of the ASAPS Certificate of Special Recognition for Community Service and Volunteerism, click here. The nine ASAPS certificate recipients involved tattoo removal programs are:

  • Edmond B. Cabbabe, MD: St. Louis, MO
  • William J. Fisher, MD: Westlake Village, CA
  • Douglas L. Gervais, MD: Minneapolis, MN
  • Karl B. Hiatt, MD: Mesa, AZ
  • Nicanor G. Isse, MD: Newport Beach, CA
  • James M. Nachbar, MD: Scottsdale, AZ
  • Gerhard H. Schmidt, MD: Bakersfield, CA
  • Curtis S.F. Wong, MD: Redding, CA
  • Paul C. Zwiebel, MD: Littleton, CO


Plastic surgeons who have received the ASAPS Certificate of Special Recognition for Community Service and Volunteerism are available for interviews. Contact the ASAPS Communications Office.


The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), is recognized as the world's leading organization devoted entirely to aesthetic plastic surgery and cosmetic medicine of the face and body. ASAPS is comprised of over 2,600 Plastic Surgeons; Active Members are certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (USA) or by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and have extensive training in the complete spectrum of surgical and nonsurgical aesthetic procedures. International Active Members are certified by equivalent boards of their respective countries. All members worldwide adhere to a strict Code of Ethics and must meet stringent membership requirements.


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