Hang Mioku's last act in her 20-year addiction to plastic surgery made her infamous: She picked up a syringe, filled it with cooking oil and injected into her own face.
Mioku's extreme act and the resulting disfigurement made international headlines. She told the Korean media that she turned to cooking oil because she had run out of the silicone a doctor had given her to perform injections at home.
Doctors already frown upon silicone injections as a hazardous, ineffective practice; when the story first broke in the West, the U.K. Telegraph marveled: "Amazingly, she found a doctor who was willing to give her silicone injects and, what's more, he then gave her a syringe and silicone of her own so she could self-inject."
Cosmetic and plastic surgeons in the United States aren't all that amazed that Mioku went to the lengths she did. While most in search of an improved look aren't as desperate as Mioku, plastic surgeons report fixing more mistakes as people turn to similar do-it-yourself procedures and get cut-rate jobs by unqualified physicians.
Some doctors make a good living fixing botched surgeries, calling the repair work "revisions." Other doctors only take on revisions when the mistake is extreme and the patient needs expert help.
"I once revised somebody who wanted an enhancement and had the breast injected with liquid silicone, not even by a physician," said Dr. Malcolm Z Roth, director of plastic surgery at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Roth said the silicone in this case was different from the silicone used in legitimate breast implants and had resulted in "hard, lumpy, painful, irregularly shaped breasts."
"It can migrate, or go to other parts of the body. It can cause noncancerous growths," he said. To lessen the woman's chronic pain, Roth said he essentially performed a mastectomy and started from scratch.
Dr. Craig A. Vander Kolk, a professor of plastic surgery at Johns Hopkins University and director of cosmetic surgery at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, has had his fair share of botched injections and face-lifts to treat.
"I saw one patient --she got an infection, ended up with a scarring and a facial nerve damaged," said Kolk. "Her face was lopsided, she couldn't move the corner of her mouth and she had terrible scars."
"We can usually make something much better, but can we take it back to what it was before? Probably not," he said. "Once you've done two or three operations, you significantly increase the risk of problems and making things look more natural."
Kolk, Roth and other plastic surgeons note that a bad economy fuels these problems: Doctors in other specialties may dabble in cosmetic work to make extra money, and patients are more motivated to shop around for bargain basement prices.
"Especially with this market, it's become a bigger issue with the economy in the last year," said Dr. Vincent Marin, a surgeon certified with the American Board of Plastic Surgery.
"The cheaper price sometimes brings with it lesser quality," said Marin, who practices at the La Jolla Cosmetic Surgery Centre in La Jolla, Calif. Marin said he's noticed that many of his patients shop for price first, but only start researching to find a quality surgeon after they've had a botched surgery.