Women Disfigured by Bogus Collagen From Fake Doctor

Women may be permanently disfigured after injections with mystery substance.

Feb. 29, 2008 — -- Americans spend more than $11 billion every year on cosmetic procedures like Botox, chemical peels and collagen injections. The number of procedures being performed outside of the doctor's office is growing dramatically, as more salons, spas and even parties offer cosmetic treatments.

Doctors warn that could be dangerous, as some California women found out when they received cosmetic injections at a local salon. Instead of the subtle enhancements they hoped for, these women are now permanently disfigured.

Tiffany Barton and Katrina Kalanick were both about to get remarried. Every bride wants to look her best, so $100 collagen injections offered at a Clovis, Calif., salon were tempting.

They were regulars at the salon and knew and trusted the salon owner. Barton and Kalanick also say they were told the man injecting them was a visiting doctor from San Diego.

And they said that the "doctor" seemed trustworthy -- he was well-dressed and well-spoken, they said.

"He held himself very well," Barton said. "He showed us his Web site. He was very convincing."

So they went for it -- lip plumping for Barton, and a forehead crease filler for Kalanick. But a few days later, they saw the first signs of trouble.

"I could hardly open my eyes. I was swollen from mid-cheek up past my eyes," Kalanick said.

Her wedding was just a week later, and she was still swollen. "I rushed down the aisle because I didn't want people looking."

Barton first developed bright red welts around her mouth on her wedding night.

"I should be celebrating. I have four beautiful children and a wonderful man that I just married and I live in a fairy tale, except for this," Barton said.

Fake Doctor Faces Charges

Barton's lips are no longer symmetrical, and Kalanick has a big bulge between her eyebrows. Their skin is discolored, and both have hard lumps that feel like rocks under their skin.

The women say they look at old pictures of themselves and wonder why they ever had the procedures.

"It completely frustrates me, especially when you look at old pictures and you realize those two lines weren't noticeable to anybody but yourself," Kalanick said.

Barton and Kalanick still don't know what they were injected with. Dermatologist Seth Matarasso believes they were injected with industrial-grade silicone. If that's the case, they may never be able to get it out of their bodies.

The substance that was injected has migrated beneath the skin and made their immune systems go haywire. A biopsy photo shows a white substance infiltrating Barton's tissue.

Both women say they've experienced excruciating pain after the procedures.

"I was taking Advil to the point that it started to cause problems with my stomach," Kalanick said.

"Virtually every aspect of their life has been irrevocably altered," Matarasso said.

Fresno police investigated the incident and arrested Mario Nieves Perez in a sting operation. Perez was not who he claimed.

"The truth is he's not a medical doctor in any way shape or form," said Chief Jerry Dyer of the Fresno Police Department.

Perez is not a U.S. citizen. Detectives believe he crossed the border from Mexico to perform his rogue treatments. Sixteen other women in the area have come forward to file complaints, including Chief Dyer's own sister.

"It just demonstrated how persuasive this individual was, how convincing he was," Dyer said.

Perez faces 29 felony charges including posing as a doctor and practicing medicine without a license, but he failed to show up in court. Police fear he has fled back to Mexico.

Perez's attorney admits his client is not a doctor but says Perez is a caring individual and the entire story will eventually come out. The attorney was not willing to discuss what the women were injected with.

Barton and Kalanick are considering suing Perez and possibly the salon to cover their medical bills.

Both women have faced physical and emotional damage. Barton takes several medications to control her pain, and Kalanik started wearing bangs and glasses to hide her forehead.

"This isn't me, that's not who I see in the mirror," Barton says. "I don't have the confidence that I used to have."

Kalanick says that when she looks in the mirror, the lump in her forehead is all she can see.

"I'm gonna cry," she said. "It just makes you think, why did I do this? I was really OK."

Don't Get Burned for Beauty

This is not an isolated case. Shady cosmetic procedures happen all over the country. A Florida resident died illegal cosmetic injections. Many doctors surveyed say they are seeing more and more patients in pain because of botched procedures performed by people with no medical credentials.

What you should know before having any cosmetic procedure performed:

A doctor should perform or supervise treatment. These are medical treatments, not spa treatments, and they need to be done in a medical setting, either by a doctor or at least with a doctor on the premises supervising.

Check the doctor's and facility's license.

Know the legitimate price range of any procedures you want to get. Barton and Kalanick paid $100 for something that typically costs $500 to $2,500.

Keep in mind, collagen and other authentic fillers come in labeled, prepackaged tubes, with a sticker that peels off and goes in your medical chart as a record of what you've had injected.