Delma Pineda had been planning her visit to Miami for months. She had hoped to meet with a high school friend to recount tales of growing up in El Salvador, and to undergo cosmetic surgery to enhance her figure.
Pineda — a resident of San Francisco for two decades — arrived in South Florida accompanied by her 4-year-old son, her youngest. On the morning of the procedure, March 5, she was excited for her makeover at CG Cosmetic Surgery in Miami, according to her friend.
But the day after the operation, Pineda fell unconscious in her friend’s home and died hours later at Jackson Memorial Hospital.
Pineda is at least the eighth patient to die after undergoing liposuction at a South Florida cosmetic surgery clinic since May 2016, when Heather Meadows, a 29-year-old mother of two from West Virginia, died of complications from her surgery. Nearly all of the patients were from out of state, lured to South Florida with the promise of inexpensive plastic surgery.
The friend, Cindy Barahona, told el Nuevo Herald that she was surprised the operation had been performed even though Pineda, a 44-year-old medical assistant, had not been able to get a pre-surgery medical exam.
Barahona said that before the surgery, workers at the clinic, 2601 SW 37th Ave., sent them to a center so Pineda could get an ultrasound, but that center was closed. When they returned to CG Cosmetic Surgery, employees were not concerned about the missing test and proceeded with the operation, Barahona said.
Barahona left Pineda at the clinic and returned in the afternoon to pick her up.
Barahona said her friend was not released until 9:30 p.m. and was shocked at how ill she looked.
“She looked bad,” Barahona said. “She complained a lot. She said that she was in pain; she could not move.”
Barahona said Pineda was not given any pain killers, only a prescription for medication, which they could not fill that evening because there was no pharmacy open on the way home from the clinic.
Pineda spent the night moaning and crying, her friend said, her voice choking. The next morning she collapsed on the bathroom floor and Barahona called 911.
Records from the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s Office indicate that Pineda died at 4:30 p.m. March 6, the day after the surgery.
Documents obtained from the clinic indicate that Pineda had a breast lift and augmentation, as well as liposuction of the abdomen and flanks and a tummy tuck. The clinic documents, shared with el Nuevo Herald by Barahona, identify the doctor as Scott Loessin.
Barahona said that she was surprised when she saw those documents because Pineda had told her she was going to have only breast augmentation. “How could they do so many things at the same time, how are they allowed to play with someone's body for money?”
Miami-Dade police are investigating Pineda’s death.
An employee at CG Cosmetic Surgery, who identified herself only as “Tatiana,” said the clinic knew nothing about Pineda’s death and said there have not been any deaths at the clinic.
Hours later, a lawyer for CG Cosmetic, Danny Simon, sent el Nuevo Herald a statement that said: “CG Cosmetic has been in touch with the family throughout this entire process. It is our preliminary understanding that the events giving rise to this incident are unrelated to CG Cosmetic's services. We are closely monitoring this case and will facilitate any and all investigation into the cause of this incident.”
“CG Cosmetic has served thousands of satisfied clients in the South Florida community for over 20 years,” the statement added.
CG Cosmetic Surgery has ties to an establishment previously known as Coral Gables Cosmetic Surgery, the clinic in which Linda Pérez underwent a breast augmentation on Aug. 12, 2013. After her operation, the then 18-year-old girl ended up in a coma for two weeks. She suffered brain damage, presumably because of a lack of oxygen to the brain as a result of heart failure.
Images of Pérez, whose body weight dwindled to 30 pounds, were published in national and international media. Following her surgery, she was unable to speak or move.
Over time, Pérez gained back some weight and began to speak a few words. She also could stand alone for a few seconds. But doctors told the family she would never recover fully.
Records from the Florida Division of Corporations indicate that both companies — CG Cosmetic Surgery and Coral Gables Cosmetic Surgery — share the same owner: Guiribitey Cosmetic & Beauty Institute, Inc. State records list Jacobo J. Guirbitey as company director.
According to records from the Florida Department of Health, the license for Coral Gables Cosmestic Surgery — which at the time of Pérez’s procedure was located at 1800 SW 27th Ave. — is null. The CG Cosmetic Surgery license was issued on Aug. 23, 2017. Its medical directory lists Dr. Jacob Freiman, the same name of the physician who accompanied Pérez in the ambulance when she had complications after her operation.
In addition, the Coral Gables Cosmetic Surgery Twitter account was recycled and now bears the name of CG Cosmetic Surgery.
Barahona said Pineda had researched the clinic and was confident it was safe.
“I asked her if she had reviewed the clinic in which she was going to do the surgery and she said yes, that she had been investigating for a year and she was sure,” Barahona said.
Following Pineda’s death, relatives in California opened an account on GoFundMe to raise funds to help pay for the transfer of her body from Miami and for funeral services.
“She spent her life taking care of others and now we have to take care of her and her family,” says the GoFundMe listing, which has raised more than $15,000 over the past week.
Family and friends also opened a group on Facebook to look for other potential victims of botched surgeries at the clinic.
“I can’t believe you're not here anymore, Delma. This world will miss you and I will miss you too. God has another angel in heaven, I love you my friend,” wrote a friend on Facebook, Sonia Carrero.
Pineda is survived by two sons, a 17-year-old and the 4-year-old. The young boy is back in California with relatives.
Funeral services will be held on Friday in El Cerrito, California.
El Nuevo Herald reporter Brenda Medina contributed to this article.
Follow Johanna A. Álvarez on Twitter: @jalvarez8.