Kaitlyn Smith won't have to pay for her surgeries, and will use the money raised for travel expenses

By Stephanie Emma Pfeffer
Updated December 30, 2014 09:10 AM
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Larsen & Talbert

It’s been quite a week for Kaitlyn Smith.

The 19-year-old cashier from Portland, Tennessee, who lost 208 lbs. and started a crowdfunding campaign to pay for her skin-removal surgery, has received an outpouring of support since being featured last week in PEOPLE’s “Half Their Size” issue.

“The feedback has been amazing, and so many people have reached out,” she tells PEOPLE.

Perhaps the most exciting note came via Instagram from Miami plastic surgeon Dr. Michael Salzhauer, who had just learned about Smith’s journey – and has offered to perform the surgeries for free.

“It was late in the afternoon on Christmas, and my sister sent me a text message saying I should check out this story on PEOPLE.com,” says Salzhauer. “It really resonated with me.”

“I do this type of pro bono thing at least once or twice a year, so I’m always looking for deserving and inspired people,” says Salzhauer.
“[Smith] for sure fits the bill. It’s a tremendous accomplishment for anybody to lose 200 lbs. – especially the way she did it, with diet and exercise.”

Smith’s first surgery for her chest and stomach is scheduled for Feb. 19 in Miami. The next one will be arms and legs, and the third will be her back. Salzhauer says recovery time between each surgery can be as short as four weeks, but more like six to eight. He also says he’d like her to lose a little more weight before beginning the process, preferring that his patients have a body mass index (BMI) of less than 32. (Smith’s is around 34.)

“Overall, I am so excited for her,” he says. “It’s the reason I went to medical school and became a plastic surgeon. It’s a life-changer, and I am happy to do it.”

As for the crowdfunding dollars? “The money I am raising and have raised will go to my living and travel expenses while I’m in Miami,” Smith says. “I’ll have to take three trips.”

She shared the good news with her supporters on Facebook. “I’m nervous about it all, but excited,” she writes. “These trips will not be joyful or fun, but so worth it. It’s all happening because of the support and help I’ve had from you all.”