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Friends forever, facelifts and all

Three lifelong friends share everything with each other. Now they're sharing their plastic surgeries with the rest of the world.

By CHASE SQUIRES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 7, 2002


DADE CITY -- Some might try to keep it a secret, but Sandra Jones is going on television to tell the world.

Jones, 53, let a network television crew document her facelift earlier this year for a prime time news program to air nationwide this month.

"My mother said, "Why are you letting them film this? Everyone will know you had a facelift,' " Jones said. "I said, "Mother, I live in a small town. Everyone will know about it anyway.' "

The adventure began last year with Jones and two lifelong friends -- Nancy Johnstone and Penny Nickel, both 53 -- on the spring vacation they take together every year.

The three grew up in the Ohio/West Virginia border town of South Point, Ohio, and they have made time, year after year, to get together, no matter where they were living.

"We catch up and talk, stay up late and just enjoy being together," Jones said. "One night we started talking about gravity."

The three had joked a few times about getting plastic surgery together, but this past spring, something clicked. The conversations got serious, Jones said.

All three decided to get full facelifts.

"In hindsight, that was the best way to go through this, with friends," she said.

Because Jones runs her own business helping doctors coordinate medical office design and equipment, she had the most experience in the medical world and was assigned to find a suitable plastic surgeon. She selected Dr. Robert Cooper, a board certified surgeon with offices in Stuart and New York City.

At the same time, the CBS news program 48 Hours had been talking to the doctor, looking for a human interest angle to fill a 12-minute segment in an hourlong look at plastic surgery.

Cooper said a producer contacted him in New York and presented his ideas to him. The doctor said, after checking with his patients, that he had an interesting case of three lifelong friends going through a procedure together.

"These gals were a really interesting story. They were absolute contemporaries of each other; they couldn't remember a time when they didn't know each other," Cooper said. "This was another transition they were going through together."

Jones and her friends agreed to take part.

"I had no idea how involved it was going to be," Jones said.

Video crews were dispatched to her friends' homes near Huntington, W.Va., and to visit Jones in Dade City.

Jones said a crew arrived at her house at 6:30 a.m. on a December day, filming her and her husband, Dick Rauber, on their morning walk. They filmed Jones putting on makeup. They filmed her at work. They filmed her eating dinner.

And when the big day came on Jan. 2, they wired Jones' minivan with tiny cameras and microphones when she picked up Johnstone and Nickel at the Orlando airport for the drive to Stuart.

"We had to stop at every rest area to change the videotape," Jones recalled.

The trio sat for formal interviews, and they wore microphones so their private conversations could be recorded. The cameras were there when they emerged from surgery. The cameras were there when the three went to New York for followup visits.

"They left us a video camera after the surgery so we could film each other," Jones said. "After a while, you just forget you're wired for sound."

A CBS reporter spoke to people in their little hometown and found a man they all knew from high school to ask what they were like back then.

And finally, the cameras were there when the three held a party in West Virginia to show off the results to all their old friends.

Cooper said he doesn't seek out publicity, but people seem to be fascinated with plastic surgery. The more people know, the more comfortable they are with procedures, the more people start to consider them for themselves. Plastic surgery has become a part of life, he said.

"When women started dyeing their hair and shaving their legs, when men started shaving their beards, that was the first step," Cooper said. "This has been going on for generations and generations."

Jones said she's thrilled with the results of the surgery, and -- so far -- she's happy she let a television crew tag along, although she won't see the segment until the rest of the world does.

"It was exciting. I had no idea how much went into it. They filmed us for hours and hours and hours, all for 12 minutes," she said. "I guess I'm a little worried. I think about how many hours they filmed us, I'm trying to remember what I said."

On TV

Sandra Jones and her friends are scheduled to appear on 48 Hours this month on CBS. The show is expected to air either April 19 or 26, a network spokeswoman said.

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