When a gunman stormed a Simi Valley dental office last summer and shot Lydia Carranza in the chest, salvation may have come in the shape of her size-D breast implant.
That's the theory at least of a Beverly Hills cosmetic surgeon who hopes to drum up support to defray the costs of Carranza's reconstructive surgery.
"She's just one lucky woman," said Dr. Ashkan Ghavami, who says he will perform the surgery for next to nothing but has urged Carranza to tell her story in hopes of getting implant companies to donate the supplies.
Ghavami contends that the implant absorbed much of the bullet's impact, limiting most of the damage to the breast itself.
"I saw the CT scan," he said. "The bullet fragments were millimeters from her heart and her vital organs. Had she not had the implant, she might not be alive today."
The hospital where Carranza was treated is not prepared to make that call.
"This is not a medical issue; it's a ballistic issue," said Kris Carraway, a spokeswoman for Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center in Thousand Oaks. "The emergency physician who treated the patient was not aware of the breast implant having any impact or whether or not it saved her life."
But Scott Reitz, a firearms instructor and deadly-force expert witness with 30 years' experience in the LAPD, said that, although he was not involved in the case, the scenario Ghavami describes is entirely plausible.
"Common sense would dictate that any time you have something that interrupts the velocity of the projectile, it would benefit the object it was trying to strike," he said. And because a saline implant is like a high-pressure bag full of salt water, it probably would provide more resistance than plain flesh, he said.
"I don't want to say a boob job is the equivalent of a bulletproof vest," he added. "So don't go getting breast enhancements as a means to deflect a possible incoming bullet."
For her part, Carranza, a mother of three and grandmother of two, says she is grateful to have survived far "worse than a scary movie."
On July 1, she was sitting at the front desk of Family Dental Care as usual when the husband of one of her co-workers marched into the office armed with a semiautomatic assault rifle, Carranza said.
His target was his wife, who had recently asked for a divorce.
Carranza said that when the wife's brother, who also worked at the office, tried to reason with him, the gunman shot him in the stomach. Carranza, crouching just a foot or two from the wife, heard the woman plead with her husband to stop and then turned her head away when he began shooting. The woman was killed.
The gunman turned to Carranza and a handful of other co-workers hiding in the tiny office supply room and opened fire once more.
First Carranza was hit in the right arm. She pretended she was dead. But then he aimed his rifle point blank at her heart, she said.
"I didn't look or think about it. I just felt wet in my chest area. I thought I was going to die," she said.
So did her husband, Benny Carranza, a supervisor at the Los Angeles Department of Public Works, who was downtown when he heard his wife had been shot.
"I was so desperate to get there I was driving in the carpool lane, I was driving on the shoulders, I was talking on my cellphone," he said.
Jaime Paredes, the alleged shooter, awaits trial. He is being held without bail on numerous counts including murder and premeditated attempted murder.
Lydia and Benny Carranza, who have been married 22 years, moved to Simi Valley about 10 years ago to be in a safe neighborhood.
By the time she was 35, Lydia Carranza wasn't feeling so great about her body, she said.
"I couldn't wear any dress that didn't make my breasts look saggy," she said. So she decided to up her B-cups to D-cups.
She loved her new look and how other people admired her at family reunions and social outings.
Now her right breast is scarred, the implant deflated.
She tried sticking a silicone pad in her bra, she said, but "one day it fell out when I was at work. I was sitting there and when I stood up, there it goes. So I said I'm not doing that anymore." At the gym, she has often felt self-conscious, she said, pulling a towel over her chest area and holding back tears.
Doctors told her she could not undergo reconstructive surgery for at least six months because her wounds needed time to heal.
When that time had passed and she started looking for doctors, she found some too expensive and some uncertain they could perform the complicated procedures, she said. Then a friend introduced her to Ghavami.
"He gave me a lot of hope," Carranza said