March 25, 2008 — -- Florida high school senior Stephanie Kuleba had everything going for her -- she was the well-liked captain of her varsity cheerleading team at West Boca High School, and she had been accepted to the University of Florida, where she hoped to study medicine.
The 18-year-old's promising life was cut short Saturday after she suffered what doctors believe was a fatal reaction to anesthesia during breast augmentation surgery.
Nearly two hours into the surgery, Kuleba was rushed to Delray Medical Center, where she died 24 hours later, said the family's attorney Roberto Stanziale.
Kuleba was undergoing surgery to correct asymmetrical breasts and an inverted areola, Stanziale said.
Doctors believe the cause of death was malignant hyperthermia, a relatively rare metabolic condition that can be triggered by certain anesthesia. A patient's heart rate and metabolism rises, causing the body temperature to rise as high as 112 degrees.
Board-certified plastic surgeon Stephen Schuster performed the surgery at an outpatient facility in Boca Raton.
"I am devastated by the loss and I feel for the family," he said in a statement.
According to just released data from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, nearly 348,000 breast augmentation procedures were performed in 2007, a 64 percent increase from 2000.
The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery reported that between 2002 and 2003, the number of women and girls younger than 18 who got breast implants nearly tripled, from 3,872 to 11,326.
Doctors also say they are seeing more parents giving their teens the gift of new breasts or other cosmetic surgery for milestones like birthdays or graduations.
"I've seen an increase in teens having plastic surgery, and certainly for graduation," said Dr. Stephen T. Greenberg, a New York plastic surgeon and the author of "A Little Nip, A Little Tuck."
The American Society of Plastic Surgeons strongly believes that no one younger than 18 should undergo plastic surgery.
Cosmetic breast implants for patients younger than 18 are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, except in cases of reconstructive or corrective surgery, such as asymmetry.
Friends at West Boca Raton High School expressed shock and sadness during a candlelight vigil for Kuleba on Sunday evening.
"She was a role model for a lot of people," classmate Vicky Goldring, 16, told the Palm Beach Post. "She was incredibly smart. She wanted to help people. She was just a happy 18-year-old girl."
As her grief-stricken family members wait for a definitive answer about Kuleba's death, they cannot ignore the cruel irony that their daughter aspired to become a plastic surgeon.