The Women in the Life of Dr. Robert Rey

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Plastic surgeon Robert Rey, M.D., of the E! Channel "Dr. 90210", lead a troubled life before he started doing plastic surgery. He came to the U.S. as a troubled youth on a cargo ship and is now known for liposuction and breast augmentations on the rich and famous in Beverly Hills.

Here’s one even top trivia players could not answer: Of all the cosmetic and plastic surgeons featured on television, which one robbed a grocery store as his last act on his native soil?

You’re on the right track if you are thinking of the same physician who – as a boy – lived in a dysfunctional, poverty-stricken home in South America and was rescued by American missionaries from a life of neglect, crime and even more privation.

The answer: Dr. 90210’s Robert Rey, M.D. was one of four children living in dire straights and whisked away to the US by missionaries working the slums of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

“By all rights, I should have been in a Brazilian jail by now,” says Dr. Rey, 43, who stars in the E! channel’s top rated “Dr. 90210,” a series about the personal and professional lives of busy, successful Beverly Hills plastic surgeons.

Perhaps a major reason Dr. Rey is not currently living in what Martha Stewart now refers to as a “gated community” are the women in his life.

While a good woman supposedly stands behind every successful man, three unforgettable females stand behind Dr. Rey who admits to being extremely fond of the fairer gender.

“I’ve never been that comfortable around men, but I love women,” says Dr. Rey. “I like the way they think, I like their strength and the way they look and behave.”

Dr. Rey’s mother did what few matriarchal things she could to hold a poor, dysfunctional family together despite an abusive father. But she instilled a serious work ethic and love of religion into Robert and his siblings and, later, came to the U.S. to work as a janitor to help with Robert’s schooling bills.

“My practice is 96 percent women and even my dogs at home are females,” Dr. Rey quips.

Hayley Rey, Robert’s wife and a program co-star, helped Robert’s fledging practice get a grip on business when he started his professional life. Hayley did course work for a degree in finance from McGill University in Canada. The third female influence is his three-year-old daughter Sydney who, he says, taught him unconditional love.

Dr. Rey’s personal story is also the archetypical yarn of the American Dream, the rags-to-riches rise of a person who must be the most lucky -- or most blessed – guy you’re likely to meet. For, it seems like the right things have always happened to Robert Rey at just the right time.

But to hear him tell it, Robert is pushed by the same forces that have driven immigrants in America since 1840-era New Yorkers routinely hung out help wanted signs reading “No Irish Need Apply.”

“I’ve always felt the need to prove myself,” Dr. Rey says. “Immigrants always feel like they are a notch down and must prove themselves, not only to the world but to themselves.”

That drive, his mom’s help, some scholarships and $200,000 worth of student loans got Robert through college, a master’s degree in government and a fellowship at Harvard Medical School where he learned, no pun, cutting edge techniques in plastic surgery. He also had another four years of surgical and reconstruction training.

With top education and training - and absolutely nothing to lose, the newly minted Dr. Rey tossed all his worldly possessions into the back of a beat up Mustang, headed west and rented a tiny office in Beverly Hills.

“I found there are more plastic surgeons in my office building that in the entire state of Montana,” Dr. Rey says.

Despite his upper drawer training, plastic surgery patients did not immediately flood into his office. So, to make a living, Dr. Rey signed on with Interim Physicians and worked weekends doing general medicine for migrant farm workers north of Los Angeles.

While his tiny Beverly Hills office was only outdone by his even smaller Beverly Hills apartment, fortune was still smiling on Robert Rey. One day, Hayley, a gorgeous Canadian, moved into the apartment next door. She was looking for actress work in Hollywood. While Robert held a dream of being a top plastic surgeon and Hayley, of being an actress, they married with their most noteworthy possession $200,000 worth of medical school bills.

It was yet another woman who would give Robert’s professional life a huge boost.

Around 2000, a woman wanting a breast augmentation came to see him. Unbeknownst to Dr. Rey, she was a secretary at the E! channel and knew many influential people. At Harvard, Robert had learned the very latest breast enhancement technique -- then new to the U.S. Known as the transumbilical method, the surgeon inserts breasts implants through the bellybutton, leaving no scar. Word spread like wildfire and, soon, Dr. Rey was performing that technique, not only on more patients, but before the unblinking eyes of television cameras. Cosmetic and plastic surgery was becoming much more popular and, over the next four years, Dr. Rey did about 28 segments for various television channels, all on some aspect of cosmetic and plastic surgery.

Then, he happened to watch an episode of the TV drama, “Nip/Tuck” causing some hot Latin blood to begin a slow boil.

“I was so completely offended by a television program that portrays plastic surgeons as hypersexual, immoral, unethical beings, I declared I was going to do something about it,” Dr. Rey says.

So he went back to the E! channel producer who filmed some of his surgical procedures and convinced them into doing a regular reality series about a young Beverly Hills plastic surgeon trying to make it, along with a few other more established surgeons. Because it’s a reality television, the cameras follow the doctors through long hours and grueling surgeries at the office to their homes so viewers can see what normal lives virtually all plastic surgeons lead.

Recounts Dr. Rey: “For instance: I let the dog get out at home and have to chase it down. Or, my wife gets miffed at me because I forgot about babysitting. Or, I go for groceries. My dinner is cold because I got home too late. I get antsy while taking my wife shopping.”

The cameras also show the workings of a typical plastic surgery office which is anything but a dream-come-true for everybody. For instance, some patients are turned away because they seek plastic surgery for the wrong reasons or because they are physically not ready to undergo surgery; some patients linger longer than expected in unanticipated pain after their operation; yet another patient’s case is seriously complicated because she would not quit smoking; still another. A woman who had had four breast surgeries by a dentist pleads for Dr. Rey to repair the damage.

“I put medicine on a pedestal in the show,” Dr. Rey says. “Unlike some T.V. programs about plastic surgery, we don’t pit one emotionally challenged patient against another; we don’t try and make an ordinary person look like some celebrity; we don’t do eleven, twelve or 13 operations on one woman and then bring her back for four more.”

Results: Dr. Rey’s show is E! Channel’s top rated program, both he and Hayley have become wealthy beyond their wildest expectations while millions of television viewers have a more realistic vision what plastic surgery is and is not.

One of the primary things about plastic surgery is, to doctors at least, stress.

“You don’t know the meaning of the word ‘stress’ until you are asked to take a knife to a perfect-looking face to make it even more perfect,” he says. “Plastic surgery, and surgery in general, is bone crushing stress.”

To cope, Rey has studied the martial arts for seven years, training almost daily in Aikido and Tae Kwon Do. “I can either go see a psychiatrist or leave my stress in a puddle of sweat on the gym floor,” he says. “Plus, martial arts make my grip harder and my hands steadier, all of which makes for a better surgeon.”

What could possibly be next for such a seemingly charmed life? Or, will the doctor, like Alexander the Great, become morose because there are no more worlds for a young person to conquer?

“Once the kids are raised and well on their way, I intend to run for Congress,” he says.

Whatever he does, Robert Rey will turn to the women in his life for support, encouragement and inspiration.

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Brent Frank
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