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A dangerous cosmetic surgery killed 14 women in five years

Fellowship Story Showcase

A dangerous cosmetic surgery killed 14 women in five years

This story was produced as part of a larger project led by Maria Alesia Sosa and Érika Carrillo, participants in the 2018 National Fellowship.

Other stories in this series include:

Two Hispanic journalists promote a change in the Florida law to protect victims of cosmetic surgeries

She is Adianet Galván, the woman who died after cosmetic surgery in Florida
Adianet Galván, the woman who died after cosmetic surgery in Florida
Univision Noticias
Friday, February 8, 2019

Three days earlier, Adianet Galván González, 30, had undergone fat transfer buttock surgery, popularly known as Brazilian Butt Lift (BBL), at the New Life Surgery center, located on Miami's 8th Street.

Orlando Llorente, the doctor who operated it, assured González that her daughter would be fine. But his hopes vanished when he was confirmed at the Kendall Regional Hospital that Adianet was brain dead and that only the decision to disconnect her was to be made.

Galván's surgery was on June 4, 2018, but it was not until seven months after her mother received the report from the Miami-Dade medical examiner that she confirmed something she already suspected: Adianet died as a result of the surgery. The report, which he gave exclusively to Univision , cites as cause of death, "complications in liposuction and in the procedure of fat transfer from his own body."

The autopsy notes that the woman had two perforated veins, where fat could enter and then traveled to the lung and brain, causing at least one thrombus, and causing brain death.

According to this research, in the last five years, 14 women have died after undergoing cosmetic surgeries in South Florida. Ten died after a fat transfer in the buttocks, and Galvan is one of them.

Univision asked to speak with Orlando Llorente, the certified surgeon who operated Galván, but he did not accept an interview. The owner of the place accused the forensic doctors of inventing the result of the autopsy.

"I never imagined that something like this could happen in the US. If it had happened in Cuba, but here with so much technology, here everything is perfect. I never thought that my daughter was going to come and die in this country, "says González, who arrived from Cuba three years ago."

What González and Galván ignored is that, far from being perfect, the laws in the state of Florida do not protect people who undergo this type of surgery, and the lack of regulations promotes the proliferation of these centers, which have multiplied in recent years.

The most dangerous surgery

Arelys González says that she went with her daughter to the first appointment in 'New Life Surgery'. They arrived there because a friend of the family had operated there and everything had gone well. Remember that they were treated kindly, they were quickly given details of the procedure, and they even offered a promotion so that the mother would also be operated.

"They made her sign some papers, but they never asked her if she spoke English, and they never told her about the risks," says González, who acknowledges that neither she nor her daughter conducted an exhaustive search of the doctor, the center or the type of operation.

The popularity of the Brazilian Butt Lift (BBL) or lifting of the buttocks by fat transfer has skyrocketed in recent years. According to the American Association of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), between 2012 and 2017 the number of procedures across the country increased by 135%.

This association has also warned about the dangers of this procedure, which they consider 20 times more risk than any other cosmetic surgery.

Dr. Pat Pazmiño, president of the Association of Plastic Surgeons of Miami, assures that these women die for a specific technique that they have identified, and that some continue to practice right and left, especially in Florida.

"There is a more dangerous surgery than all the others, the Brazilian Butt Lift, and here in Miami more people have died than in any other part of the country," Pazmiño explains.

The technique involves removing fat from an area of ​​the body, to pass it to the buttocks area. The danger, he says, is when the person doing the surgery drills a vein under the muscle, causing the fat to enter the blood vessels and travel to vital organs such as the brain, lung or heart, causing thrombi that kill patients. as it happened to Adianet Galván.

Legal Limbo

For Pazmiño the problem begins with the law and medical professionals. "This happens because there are doctors who use dangerous techniques and do not understand anatomy, because they are not plastic surgeons." In the case of Galván, the doctor who operated it was a certified plastic surgeon.

Florida law allows a family doctor or any specialty practice such delicate surgeries as a liposuction or BBL.

To be certified as a plastic surgeon in the US, a person must complete a medical degree at the university, then must practice in surgery for 6 to 8 years, and then submit two exams.

"In many cases, the doctors who perform cosmetic procedures go to a course for a weekend and begin to operate," warns Pazmiño.

This factor could have weighed on the death of Kizzy London in 2017, a woman of 40 years, who traveled from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to become a BBL in the center 'Jolie Plastic Surgery', one of the best known and largest in Miami .

Arnaldo Valls, the doctor who operated on London, had only taken a three-day course to do liposuction and another one on fat-transfer gluteal augmentation , according to the Florida Department of Health (FDOH), which took 8 days to complete. months in restricting the license. Valls is forbidden to do that technique, but continues practicing others in the center Jolie, who did not have any sanctions for the death of London.

Attorney Jesus Novo, representing 'Jolie Plastic Surgery' told Univision that they have 11 surgeons accredited by the Florida Board of Medicine and FDOH.

In his portal, Valls does not appear among those 11 surgeons, however, we contacted the center to request information as potential patients, and they assured us that Valls was available to perform surgeries.

Novo also responded about the death of London: "Unfortunately, in 2017 a patient of Dr. Arnaldo Valls died in hospital due to a complication directly related to the risks of plastic surgery. Our center, like Dr. Valls, we have suffered enormously this loss ".

Although these sites appear to be clinical, they are not. Under Florida law, their owners must not be doctors, so FDOH has no authority to regulate them. "Anyone can have a center of this type, and it does not have sanitary regulations because its owner is not a doctor," Dr. Pazmiño insists.

State Senator Anitere Flores acknowledged gaps in the legislation during an interview with Univision as part of this investigation. "We are in limbo, because neither the health department nor the business regulation department are in charge," he said.

This week, Flores introduced a bill that seeks to reform the current one, and that aims to make the owners of these centers doctors, and that the presence of an anesthesiologist is mandatory in these surgeries.

"If they are professionals, doctors, the health department will be able to regulate them and they will be more careful because there will be a risk on that license. In the end they live off their license," Flores said.

A National Problem

Kizzy London traveled to Florida from Louisiana, Delma Pineda, from California, Lattia Baumeister from Illinois, Heather Meadow from West Virginia, Jasmine Smith from New Jersey, Rannika Hall from Missouri and Tola Warren from New York. This is not a state problem.

80% of the deceased women cited in this work traveled to South Florida from other states or countries , attracted by the huge offer, tempting prices and payment facilities.

Only in Miami-Dade County there are 112 places with cosmetic center license. In the entire state there are 629 licenses of this type, with prices much lower than those obtained in other states.

For example, the 'New Life' center, where Adianet Galván operated, offers a BBL with financing for several years paying 30 dollars a week, or a liposuction paying 25 dollars a week. They also promote breast augmentation for four installments of $ 20 per month, also funded for several years.

The 14 deceased mentioned in this work left behind at least 26 orphans. "It happens in Miami, but this is a national problem. They are not women, they are mothers, from outside Florida who find these clinics on the Internet where there is no more information. They see the prices and think that they will have a good result, but they pay the final price," says Pazmiño.

No records

Despite the seriousness of the problem, there are hundreds of stories that remain untold, because in Florida, no agency, not even the health department, keeps records of deaths or incidents by cosmetic procedures.

Anyone who wants to know before undergoing an operation, is practically blind, and can only resort to the reports of some media.

The department's available database does not have information on cosmetic surgeries because they are not categorized within a profession that regulates the department.

Tracking complaints is an almost impossible mission. Centers such as 'New Life', where the daughter of Arelys González died, appear without complaints on the health department's website. There are also no claims against Jolie, whose place in a mall has changed names several times, after reports of at least three deaths.

"Today there is no obligation for the health department to have those figures, because their owners are not doctors and FDOH does not regulate them," says Senator Anitere Flores.

There is no control

Alejandro López is not a doctor and owns a center where no deaths have been reported, but he deals with the bad reputation of the industry and he himself recognizes that the law is weak.

"Any doctor can make a face, eyelids, a lipo in his office. By law, you can only take 1,000 ml of fat, but how can you control this? How do you know if you get 1,000 or 4,000 ml? There is no way to control, it is impossible, you should have the inspector next to you fixed. They take everything they want and nothing happens, "says Lopez.

The Univision team visited four of these centers covertly, requesting information about the surgeries. In none of the sites the reporter was seen by a doctor. Who was in charge of examining the potential patient was a figure called 'coordinator', who is dedicated to recommend what procedures should be done.

In two of the centers, they specified a date for the surgery, without a doctor seeing the person. In all places they assured that none of the surgeries involved risks.

Marked for life and without justice

Berta Ledón, a woman from Miami, underwent in 2017 a liposuction type 'Tummy tuck' and a neck surgery, which was complicated and left completely disfigured. His wounds became infected and he spent months with the gaps left by the operation on his body torso.

"After the wound opened, I went to the clinic where they operated on me, but the doctor did not take care of me, a nurse took care of me and she told me she was going to open me. It was not until the month that a doctor saw me, "says Ledón.

In total, Ledón paid $ 13,000 for his surgeries, but after the emergencies, he ended up in debt in almost 30,000 to heal the damages left by the surgery.

The clinic where it was operated, My Cosmetic Surgery, does not register a complaint on the FDOH portal. And Ledón has no hope of obtaining justice because at least four lawyers have refused to take his case.

The case of Ledón was reported by Univision in February 2018, and at the time, the My Cosmetic Surgery center sent the following statement:

"Due to the medical ethics regulations of the state of Florida, we can not discuss the terms and particularities of this case, and we give all of our patients the best care." Any surgical intervention involves risks, which are detailed in the Informed Consent patients read and sign.My Cosmetic Surgery is a respectable institution, with an impeccable safety record in over 20 years and thousands of satisfied patients. "

Berta Ledón

Once again, Florida law makes it virtually impossible for those who are marked by this type of surgery to have compensation options. By law, no doctor in the state is required to have insurance against risk.

The lawyer Percy Martinez, expert in cases of medical malpractice , indicates that at least ten cases of this type arrive to him the week, but prefers not to take them, because they know that it has all the to lose.

"Those doctors or centers do not have insurance, or have very low insurance. In addition, they consult with lawyers who teach them to protect their assets; so the houses, the planes and the boats put them in the name of their relatives ", explains Martínez.

The lawyer also believes that legislation should change and require centers and doctors to have liability insurance. "It is not possible that a Food Truck is obliged to have insurance, and a cosmetic center or a doctor does not. We see hundreds of cases like that, but there is no way to recover money," he insists.

In spite of the sequels left to Berta Ledón by surgeries, she never received compensation for the physical or emotional damages. Arelys González has not been compensated for the death of her daughter Adianet.

"I'm not interested in money, I'm interested in the guilty party paying to do justice to my daughter's death. That is the only thing that will give me peace. Everything was in vain, and I'm in the United States, where the laws are supposed to be fulfilled , "Gonzalez said.

Senator Flores' bill proposes fines of up to $ 10,000, business closings or 5-year penalties for cosmetic centers that register incidents.

Flores said he will try to include the obligation of liability insurance, but believes that what will be crucial is that doctors own the centers so that FDOH can regulate them.

The reform of the law will not solve the whole problem. Experts agree that patients are obliged to investigate in whose hands they put their lives.

For Arelys González and Berta Ledón it is too late. Regretful, they only hope that their tragedies will serve as an example for others.

See also the television reports of this work:

[This story was originally published by Univision Noticias.]