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Drag Race winner Kita Mean’s surgical nightmare!

Botched skin-removal operations have left the Kiwi reality TV champion, aka Nick Nash, physically scarred but mentally liberated
Michelle Hyslop

One scar runs from elbow to elbow across Nick Nash’s chest, a line that’s already fading. The other is an even scarier battle scar – running from hip to hip, the uneven trail looks like a cruel, crooked smile.

It’s a far cry from the toned, taut stomach the award-winning drag artist – better known as Kita Mean, the inaugural champion of RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under in 2021 – aspired to, but at least his mental scars are starting to heal.

Nick, 36, suffered complications from skin-removal surgery in Thailand, where the operation was far cheaper than having it done in New Zealand. However, he is now facing more corrective surgery, months of lost work and bills that add up to more than what it would’ve cost to have the original op done by a local provider.

On RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under.

“Lying in hospital in Thailand, I tried to tell myself that people go through hard times in this world, so I wouldn’t get too down on myself,” Nick confesses to Woman’s Day. “But I was thinking, ‘What if I die? What if I never heal from it?'”

Having had keyhole gastric sleeve surgery in November 2019, Nick didn’t hesitate in returning to Thailand for follow-up surgery to remove excess skin.

He tells, “Before I had my gastric sleeve, I had major social anxiety and one of my absolute scariest things to do was go to the supermarket – for so many reasons. It was so brightly lit and I always felt self-conscious because I had given up on my image outside of drag.

“I had no eyebrows, I shaved my head bald and it was a spectacle. I wouldn’t shop and I would just eat fast food, which was ridiculously expensive and ridiculously bad for me. I never really thought that I was in a position to change anything – I just felt that this was my life.”

Nick finally found the courage to have a gastric sleeve fitted and his weight dropped from 160 to 85kg. But that resulted in folds of floppy skin. Having worked so hard to lose weight, he planned skin-removal surgery, but COVID-related travel restrictions got in the way.

“They sell it to you like you’re going to be all flat and toned.”

Then the Auckland performer won Drag Race, and was catapulted into tours of Australia and the States, with months of travel leading to a 10kg weight gain.

“I started getting all these fabulous opportunities,” recalls Nick. “I took my one-woman show Delightfully Camp around Australia for two months and I toured America for six weeks, which was the most amazing experience. I had also written my book Life in Lashes.”

Carrying around 160kg was a drag for Kita.

Nick’s medical-tourism company and his Thai surgeons assured him that, at 95kg, he could still have the operation, so last October, in a break in his schedule, he flew over to have the excess skin on his chest and stomach removed.

“I was always self-conscious about not only having man boobs and fat, but having breast tissue there,” tells Nick. “I literally had big, bouncing boobs and my nipples stuck out. I’d wear hoodies in summer to hide it.”

Doctors suggested he also get his forearms done, meaning a second operation – and then there was an unexpected third op to correct a problem with his stomach.

Nick explains, “The wound was opening. I couldn’t walk. I was hunched over because it was just painful and inflamed. There was definitely some dead skin that they had to cut out because if there’s too much fluid that doesn’t drain fast enough, the skin can die.

“They tried to fix it without doing another operation, giving me antibiotics, but that just was not working. They couldn’t take the drains out because they were not draining. I didn’t really know what that meant. I just trusted their guidance.

“Then they were like, ‘We want to send you back to the hotel with your drains,’ and said it wasn’t completely common. I knew I wasn’t like other people in the final stages of their healing.

“I was telling them, ‘I don’t want to die! I’m happy to stay here.’ They made me pay more money to stay at the hospital for longer, even though the travel company said the surgery would be a set fee.

“They tried to sew me up to get me back home. I was out of hospital three days and they said I was good to fly out.”

Nick was thankful to have his partner Sylvester Faaofo, who he met just before Drag Race, with him in Thailand to help change his dressings and compression garments.

It was equally traumatic for Sylvester to see Nick in such pain and suffering.

“He was so down,” Sylvester recalls. “I am so proud of how strong Nick was considering what he has been through. I just kept telling him, ‘You can do this.'”

Partner Sylvester has been a rock since the botched surgery. “I’m so proud of how strong Nick was,” he says.

Returning home, Nick upgraded to business class because he was heavily bandaged and swaddled, and was back for less than a week when his stomach wound started to burst and he was rushed to Middlemore Hospital. The plastics team booked him in for surgery the next morning.

Nick tells, “They had to cut out all the dead skin and fat that was basically infected inside my body. My doctor said the stitches should have come out two weeks after the op and this was close to six weeks.”

He got out of Middlemore on 23 December, three months since he flew to Thailand. Two months on from the ordeal, Nick has realised the whole experience was more expensive than if he had been in New Zealand for the procedure.

“It ended up costing me $40,000, not counting the flights and the work I lost – I was doing a pantomime in Christchurch and Wellington, Beauty and the Beast, playing Belle’s sister, and there was DragCon in the UK.”

Riding off the success of Drag Race, it has already been a busy year for Kita Mean with the Auckland and Sydney pride parades, plus performances at the Adelaide Fringe Festival. Kita is about to tour Delightfully Camp around New Zealand.

Asked if he has a good relationship with food now, Nick says, “I don’t know if I ever will. I always thought I was different to the rest of the world. I struggled with food, while other people could just eat whatever they wanted and not have to think about putting on weight.”

Since having about 4.5kg of skin removed, Nick – the co-owner of two Auckland cabaret bars, Caluzzi and Phoenix – has lost another 5kg. He tells, “My current weight is 85 kilos. I’m still on a journey. The doctor tells me I’m pretty much where I should be.”

He is even considering more corrective surgery to improve the look of his stomach. “They kind of sell it that they’re going to make you flat and all toned, but I’m more forgiving now. I get over s**t easily.

“Everything fits so nicely. I love that my T-shirts hang from my shoulders and not my boobs. I used to walk hunched over and I still have bad posture because of it. But now I am embracing the scars. I’ve lived so many years of shame, but I’m proud of me now.

“It’s hard to even remember the person I was before I lost weight. I was so insecure and so sad about everything. I hated myself and had no pride in my body. I wouldn’t ever have even dreamed of getting to this point in my life. It’s very liberating.”

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