The New, Improved Marisa

The wife of an Army Reserve officer serving in Iraq wins a complete makeover. He’ll have to wait to see the results, but the rest of us can watch on Sunday evening

Carol Chang
Friday - April 01, 2005
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Marisa Burgess-Suntheimer, before her makeover

Marisa Burgess-Suntheimer, after her makeover

Imagine, if you can, having a team of pros all working together to make you feel and look your best — for free. No, this isn’t fantasy health care island. But for Hawaii’s first “Dream Makeover” woman, the experience is real, and she gives it a thumbs up. Or rather a chin up, gums up, brows up, tummy in, chest out, nose straight and weight down.

The only thing wrong with this picture is that Hawaii audiences will see the new improved Marisa Burgess-Suntheimer before her husband does: He left for Iraq between the face lift and the body work.

While Marisa’s four children, their friends and her mother from Missouri are here for the duration, Lt. Col. Bryan Suntheimer, executive officer, is with the 3,000-member Hawaii Army National Guard 29th Brigade Combat Team in Balad, a compound northwest of Baghdad for training Iraqi soldiers.

While the career soldier is not crazy about his wife’s lifelong wish-come-true, he hasn’t discouraged her. “He liked me just the way I was,” laughs Marisa, who talks with him every day by phone. “He’s always been that way. But he told me ‘Just make sure it’s what you want.’

“He is anxious to see the pictures, though.”

Bryan had to leave when her new face was still fresh and swollen, and he’s not due home until Spring 2006. Still, she’s confident he’ll like what he sees. “I’m looking better and definitely feeling better,” says the Kaneohe working wife and soccer mom. (She’s 42, but swears she’s really 32 now.) “I’m walking with my shoulders back, standing taller, practicing confidence. It’s definitely helped my confidence.

“The teeth and the tummy tuck are my two favorite things,” she adds, glowing as she pats her flat abdomen and flashes her brilliant chops. “And the straightened nose and my jawline are a close second.” (The crooked nose, she volunteers later, was courtesy of her first husband.)

Daughter Ashlee Estaban, a 19-yearold nursing student, is entranced. “I love both moms, but this one looks younger,” she says. “I told her all the time she needs to improve, and I get mad when she drinks soda and eat chips.”

How about now? “It’s so cool! I love the neck! I love her eyes, and I love this lot,” Ashlee says, cupping her mom’s breasts.

Son Tyler Estaban, 13, plays HYSA soccer and prefers to keep silent about the makeover like his step-dad. But the couple’s twin daughters, Emily and Caitlyn Suntheimer, age 8, are quite pleased. Caitlyn calls Marisa “beautiful” and claims she doesn’t remember what she looked like before. Her job now, Caitlyn says, is to keep mom full of carrots. (Besides eating more fruits and vegetables, Marisa has cut her six-Pepsi-a-day habit down to less than half of one sugary can.)

Dream Makeover Hawaii producer AnnMarie Manzulli, a marketing whiz from Kailua, developed the concept as an island take on the makeover craze with a “wellness twist” and a warmer feel than The Swan or Extreme Makeover. It could make a lucky Hawaii woman happy, she reasoned, promote Manzulli’s clients on the makeover team, and inspire other island women to take steps to change their lives. A thousand hopeful applicants — including 10 men — signed up for the chance last fall at the Hawaii Women’s Expo.

“Oh my God! It was an emotional experience,” Manzulli says of the selection process. “Some stories were hysterical, but there were lots of Kleenex boxes for the others. Many were just sad. There was a lot revealed about the state of women in Hawaii; a lot of domestic violence and low self-esteem.” In the end, the team picked Marisa — a stable, healthy, motivated, non-smoking woman with an ohana behind her.

Island residents can watch the four-month transformation for themselves in the half-hour show, starting at 9:30 p.m. Sunday on Oceanic Cable 16. Manzulli promises a kinder, gentler treatment for the patient. She’s allowed to look in the mirror and stay at home from “Before” all the way to “After”— except for some recovery time at Manoa Valley Inn. No extreme tear-jerker, no swan swoon. Just a $50,000-plus package of aloha.

Marisa’s pro support team didn’t officially meet each other — or all of her finished parts — until March 2. The setting was Armour Gallery & Gardens in Kahaluu for the final taping and “reveal,” as they say in the reality TV trade.

The grand coming together included cosmetic dentist Wynn Okuda, (mouth, gums, veneers and jaw line), cosmetic surgeon Bob Peterson (face, nose, neck, breast and tummy man), esthetician Susan Perry (skin peels and facials), Gillian Armour (image, colors and wardrobe picker- upper) and Deborah Micek (cheerleader and life coach).

The list goes on. Registered dieticians John Westerdahl and Mary Arakaki applied the Castle Wellness Center treatment to her daily eating habits. Castle fitness trainer Cindy Carvalho put Marisa’s newly trimmed bod into exercise mode. Marsha Nadalin styled and streaked her hair, Jamie Kunisaki did her makeup. And Manzulli’s husband Sabino served up a grand spread of Italian nibblies and champagne to the Dream girl and her team.

It was truly a collaborative project, particularly between Okuda and Peterson; and the whole team endorses it as

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