Kristen Costa always wanted to be a mom.
When the news came about that she was pregnant, Costa and her husband Steve planned a “baby moon” to Hawaii toward the end of her pregnancy. While she was there, Costa noticed a strange-looking spot on her right arm. Being an experienced plastic surgery physician’s assistant, she had a hunch it was something that needed to be closely observed.
As soon as she made it back to Florida, Costa had a surgeon at her practice, Southeastern Plastic Surgery, remove the spot.
It turned out to be melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer. It had spread to her lymph nodes, which were removed.
That was a double scare of sorts, since not only did she worry about her own life, but the cancer could have also spread to the fetus.
On her right arm is a scar from the removal of the spot.
“My scars tell a story now,” Costa said with a smile. Melanoma patients sometimes tell her she wouldn’t understand their struggle. She simply shows them the scar and explains that actually, she does.
Her daughter was born about a month after the removal. Kelly Claire will be 3 years old in June.
When Costa talks about her “miracle baby,” her whole face lights up. She doesn’t sweat the little things, like leaving a few dishes undone, or Kelly’s toys all over the floor for a night — as long as she gets to spend time with her.
“Most people are floored to know about my health past … ‘You were so sick to be so well,’ ” Costa said people would tell her.
It wasn’t just the cancer. Around 2011, she was diagnosed with a heart condition that affected the heart’s electrical system. During that time, Costa was a dedicated marathon runner and also did body building, but she’d feel breathless and tired quicker than her runner friends. Thankfully, Costa said, after having Kelly, the heart condition improved.
Singing and optimism
Though thinking of the cancer can be nerve-wracking because of the possibility of it returning, Costa sticks to a bright attitude. “God isn’t finished with me yet,” she tells herself.
Costa could have sulked in fear and anxiousness after the health scares. But she chose to rise in one piece out of tribulation.
“I find such happiness in so many things,” Costa said. She tries not to let her past deplete her enthusiasm.
Singing is one of those things. She’d sung in choirs at church ever since she was a child. In fact, she and her five sisters were nicknamed “The Snyder Six” by community members — a play on the Jackson Five. The sisters were known for their group serenades at weddings and events.
She’s continued to sing contemporary songs at Good Shepherd Catholic Church, where she’d been singing since she was 5 years old. Costa loves “pouring into people” by mentoring young musical theater students and serving on the Young Actors Theatre board.
Giving patients’ self-esteem a facelift
Costa’s expertise lies in facial aesthetics and injectables, and she trains dermatologists, nurses and plastic surgeons, seeing each surgery as its own “sudoku puzzle.” She helped start Tallahassee’s Southeastern Plastic Surgery almost 20 years ago. Costa is also the liaison between the Association of Plastic Surgery Physician Assistants and the American Academy of Physician Assistants, representing the nation’s plastic surgery physician assistants.
But she looks at each procedure as more than just a lip enhancement or a chemical brow lift. She remembered a patient whose mother had always called her mouth “chicken lips” growing up. Her confidence surged after Costa’s lip enhancements.
Costa sees her job as an interpersonal one.
“I get to share in people’s stories … and make a situation even better,” she said.