Fabiola Santiago

In search of bigger butts, women find South Florida death traps

Heather Meadows playing around with her son, in a Facebook photo.
Heather Meadows playing around with her son, in a Facebook photo.

Heather Meadows will never know what it’s like to see her infant daughter and 6-year-old son grow up. She won’t reach mid-life, know what it’s like to feel the heart full with double the dose of love, as your children’s children play while you wistfully wonder, where has all the time gone?

Instead, the 29-year-old mother has become the latest face of an issue that merits serious and determined action from authorities: the growing death toll at South Florida’s shadowy cosmetic surgery clinics.

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The West Virginia woman traveled to Hialeah to undergo a procedure dubbed the Brazilian butt lift, in which fat is extracted from the torso and injected into the buttocks, at Encore Plastic Surgery, a clinic with a troubled track record. She died on May 12 after fat particles ended up clogging the arteries of her lungs and heart, causing the organs to fail, according to the medical examiner.

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Her death, still under investigation, brings to light once more the dangerous yet lucrative business of bargain-priced cosmetic surgery done in clinics ill-equipped to handle life-and-death emergencies and with less than stellar doctors. Fat transfer from one area of the body to another is a horrific and violent enough procedure to even watch on video. Add to that the risks that these women face when they’re walking into places that shouldn’t even be operating.

Question is, where are the authorities? Where’s state supervision of what’s being described as assembly lines of Brazilian butt lifts in clinics where doctors have previously been charged with serious crimes related to botched surgeries and patient care?

Those in charge of public safety seem powerless to shut down these operations that continue to lure clients like Meadows from all over the United States with clever infomercials featuring testimonies of success.

Their bad telenovela scripts peddle physical enhancements like this: A young Latina is considering cosmetic surgery to enlarge her breasts at a cosmetic surgery center, but her parents object. Parents come on camera, convincingly delivering common-sense objections. The young woman takes a stand — oh, she’s so self-assured! — and goes ahead with the surgery. The father, seeing her come out safely, comes around tearfully. The mother is all emotional bliss at her daughter’s enhanced physique. The young woman can’t say enough about her happily-ever-after.

It’s all more fairy tale than Cinderella — and for some, deadly or disfiguring.

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The Florida Department of Health has charged doctors who work at Encore Plastic Surgery and two other clinics, Vanity Cosmetic Surgery and Spectrum Aesthetics in Miami, with medical malpractice and employing unlicensed professionals. Yet they continue to operate.

The day Meadows died last week was business as usual. So was the next day, right in front of television cameras. Clients reported being called and urged to come earlier to their surgeries, no word about the death.

Meadow’s Facebook page, full of pictures of her small children and her sweet, encouraging words to friends, will break your heart.

In the sadness of death, we want to be kind, cast choices in gentler hues and accommodate bad choices. But here’s the blunt truth: Two children are left without their mother, who chose the pursuit of a bigger butt over their welfare, their future — and lost the gamble in a storefront clinic.

I’m being harsh and judgmental, yes. But as I write this, there are women — why is it only women, don’t you ask? — lining up for cosmetic fixes.

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The wealthiest can afford the finest facilities, although not even those can ensure a risk-free procedure, as illustrated by the case of well-known radio personality Betty Pino, who died of complications from silicone injections to the buttocks.

The working class, the uneducated, and the unaware will choose whatever is most affordable — and here in South Florida, we’re providing the death traps.

This updated version clarifies a sentence on charges by the Florida Department of Health.