Reality TV’s newest star, Allison Vest, is always ready to lend a hand — or an ear, nose or eye.
The new series “Body Parts” — airing Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on TLC — features, Vest, 42, an anaplastologist who combines science with art to create prosthetics in her Texas-based clinic for people who have missing or malformed anatomy.
“I used to tell my patients that you don’t know about us until you need us,” said Vest, referring to the obscure nature of her job.
“I found out about anaplastology when I was immersed in my master’s program [at the University of Illinois at Chicago]. It was called biomedical visualization, and you could offshoot into the prosthetics part. I was an anthropology and art major. I [originally] wanted to reproduce artifacts for museums and things like that. But, that was boring.”
Each episode of “Body Parts” follows Vest as she meets with various patients who come to her for prosthetics that they need for different reasons. For instance, Vest’s patient Jay Jaszkowski lost his nose from cancer, and it has impacted his self-esteem so much that he feels like he can’t date or socialize. So, Vest makes him a realistic-looking prosthetic nose, while debating with him about how large or small it should be.
Twenty-year-old woman Ari Stojsik has a deformed ear, and seeks Vest’s help to craft a prosthetic one, complete with earrings. Vest’s patient Victoria Mugo lost her hands after she got walking pneumonia that became septic, resulting in her hands being amputated. She wants to be able to use prosthetics to hold hands with her son and to do simple daily tasks such as pick up a fork. Daniel, a man who comes to Vest with a severe facial deformity, survived a brutal car accident. Meghan, a 20-something breast-cancer survivor, comes to Vest to get prosthetic nipples after undergoing a double mastectomy.
“I like the human part of what I do. I like listening to people, and just learning their stories,” said Vest. “It doesn’t have to be their medical journey — just hearing about their life.”
Vest said that eyes are the most difficult part for her to create.
“It’s what I call an orbital prosthesis. That includes the eyeball and the lids, because our eyes are moving so much. For me, it’s very challenging to get what we call a static gaze. Hands are very difficult, too. They’re just so large. Typically, I’m making ear and nose prosthetics. That’s a much more manageable size.”
Thanks to the unusual nature of her work, Vest’s office looks like a mad scientist lab, she said.
“If I look to my left, there’s a toe hanging out over there. And if I look the other way, there’s a part of an eye in the works.”
As shown on “Body Parts,” when Vest presents her patients with the end result, many of them cry after seeing themselves in the mirror with their new additions.
“I am a person that wears my heart on my sleeve. I’m not good at holding back any emotions, so I’m generally joining them on any emotion they’re feeling,” said Vest.
“I always realize that they’re happy tears.”