Schechterle and the Surgeon

Photography by Jason Millstein

Photography by Jason Millstein

They make an unlikely pair, but the former cop who nearly burned to death a decade ago has found a lifelong friend in the plastic surgeon who’s been restoring his body – and sense of humor. After 18 surgeries together, they’d better like each other.

On a bright January morning in early 2003, Dr. William Leighton was deeply preoccupied with boobs. That much is almost entirely certain.  A salty, engaging personality with a Wilford Brimley moustache and the grandfatherly pate to match, Leighton was a good boob guy in perhaps the world’s leading boob town. Though he started his career reattaching amputated hands and other errant body parts as a dead-of-night trauma surgeon, the University of Illinois-educated M.D. ultimately followed his affinity for soft tissues into the realm of cosmetic medicine. In the 1980s, he helped pioneer some of the tissue-harvesting techniques that would revolutionize breast reconstruction and the rehabilitation of burn victims.

His timing couldn’t have been better. The exploding American appetite for cosmetic enhancement was transforming Scottsdale into a worldwide mecca for plastic surgery, and for every rebuilt mastectomy patient or rejuvenated car accident victim who raved about his work, Leighton received several referral visits from regular vanity-plagued folks looking to upgrade what God gave ’em: a bigger cup size, a tauter face, a flatter tummy. His colleagues called them “spin-offs.”

By that morning in 2003, the augmentation/implant/facelift crowd represented nine-tenths of Leighton’s income, he estimates, so it couldn’t have been business as usual when a lanky, young Phoenix police officer named Jason Schechterle shuffled into his clinic.

Schechterle was about to start a life-altering transformation. So was Leighton, though he might not have known it yet.

“Hello, douche-nozzle,” the patient says, unleashing his wide, distinctive smile.

“Hey, dickhead,”the doctor retorts with a smile.

These are their pet names for one another. A scene from Patch Adams, it ain’t.

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