Earlier this month, Vera Lawrence of Miami Dade-County, Florida died shortly after receiving an underground plastic surgery procedure apparently to enlarge her hips and buttocks, local police say.
The exact cause of the death has not yet been determined and no charges have been filed, police say. They are awaiting a toxicology report, which could take at least another week.
But based on testimony gathered from witnesses to the procedure, they suspect the cause of death was related to injections of liquid silicone, a procedure that banned from plastic surgery in the United States for years.
"It's believed it is silicone, or a similar type of substance, to enhance the size of her hips or buttocks," says Officer Bill Robertson, a Miramar, Florida police spokesman. "Whether that was the cause of death we have yet to determine right now."
The procedure was performed in an apartment in nearby Mirimar, and paramedics arrived on the scene after a call saying the woman had difficulty breathing.
The out-of-state man suspected of performing the procedure and others like it apparently fled and has not yet been caught.
A Banned Procedure
"It sounded like this was a free silicone injection," and that the substance was accidentally injected into a vein, says Walter Erhardt, president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
While inserting sealed silicone implants is a standard procedure in the United States, layered injections under the skin of liquid silicone for feature enhancement has been banned for years, experts say, though it is still done in some other countries.
The tragedy of the story, says Erhardt, is that there are a number of relatively safe procedures that can be performed to do a hip or buttock augmentation.
"For the injection of liquid silicone, and that's what it sounds like this was, that's just really kind of incredible to believe that somebody would do it, much less have it done to them in this day and time," he says. "Liquid silicone injection, except for experimental protocols, is something that's been banned in this country for years."
It could cost a patient thousands of dollars to have the procedure done properly. But Erhardt says the cost is not for nothing. The procedures should be performed in a safe, accredited facility, he says, by a board-certified plastic surgeon along with a qualified anesthesiologist, if needed, in a sterile environment and with the right anesthesia.
Performed correctly, Erhardt says, plastic surgery can be as safe as any other type of surgery.
"This appears to be a classic example, and a sad example, of a patient that is totally uninformed, going outside the system," says Erhardt.
Mirimar police have not identified the suspect, who is believed to have fled the area. The suspect could faced a charge of manslaughter, which could carry a sentence of 15 years in prison.