CARACAS, Venezuela, March 15, 2014— -- We'll never forget the first phone call. How do we convince someone who is doing something illegal and could potentially kill women to agree to go on camera?
We identified ourselves and told him about how we were working on a story about illegal butt injections in light of all of the deaths in the United States and in Venezuela.
"Why should I talk to you?" he asked.
We told him about the deaths that have occurred in his country and in the United States, where his procedure is banned. In Venezuela, at least 17 women died for botched butt lifts last year. In the U.S., at least 10 women have died in seven states.
"Those women are dying because they are going to anyone who will inject them. I am a doctor and I know what I am doing." he said.
"Can you say that on camera?"
We would soon find out the answer. Two months later, there we were in Caracas, Venezuela, and on our way to meet the doctor.
Our driver, Wilmer, talked a lot about the politics of Venezuela and pointed out stores with empty shelves.
"You can't even find TVs here anymore," he said. "Where does all the money go in a country that is so rich in oil?"
We finally arrived at our destination.
That's got to be him.
Those words were on everyone's minds as we parked discreetly outside of a busy sushi restaurant.
The "him" in question was Dr. Gus (That's what he asked us to call him.) He was a tall man, a bit intimidating and, at the time, he was sporting aviator glasses and braces on his teeth. As we approached the restaurant, we were nervous. After months of lively phone calls, texts and Facebook messaging, Dr. Gus agreed to meet with us.
Now, we'd see if he would take us into the underground world of illegal cut-rate butt injections.
Half an hour into our lunch meeting, we had all loosened up a bit. Dr. Gus had been pecking away at his phone when, quite suddenly, we were joined by a beautiful 20-year-old college student named Sofia.
When we ordered our food, we noticed Sofia didn't look at the menu.
"Sofia, are you hungry?" Jackie asked.
"I can't eat because of the procedure," she said.
"Oh, right," Jackie said.
Soft spoken and beautiful, we learned she would be Dr. Gus' patient that day.
We could tell Sofia was a little uncomfortable. Jackie started talking to Sofia about things that young girls in their 20s like talking about -- boys, of course. She immediately opened up.
"Why is it that ugly girls get boyfriends easily and pretty girls can't?" Sofia complained.
We asked her, "Do you have a boyfriend?"
"No, not now," she said, as she looked down at her hands.
After we finished eating, things picked up very quickly. We drove with Dr. Gus to his apartment, which was right around the corner. His neighborhood was quiet but sketchy and, as we pulled out our gear, he was becoming increasingly paranoid. Still, we started shooting -- and didn't stop for the next four hours.
Once inside his cluttered apartment, we found that Dr. Gus had turned a spare bedroom into an operating theater.
The room was small. We immediately gamed out our plan. Since both of us were shooting, one camera would focus on the lower half while the other would stay on Sophia's face.
Dr. Gus proceeded as if we were not there, occasionally stopping answering some of our questions.
Sofia was in a lot of pain, even with the anesthesia. The tray holding the thick syringes was a shocking visual. Sofia would go on to receive a total of 20 injections -- 10 in each cheek.
After the procedure was done, she signaled that she wasn't completely satisfied with results. We went back to visit her a few days later.
"Are you scared you could get sick? You have seen the news right about all the women who have died?"
"I take extra precautions," she said.
We called her the day before our piece aired to see how she was doing.
She said surprised to hear from us.
It had been three weeks since we last spoke. We asked how she felt.
"Well I feel fine, but I am not happy with my left cheek," she said. "It looks a bit deformed. I can tell when I wear a bathing suit."
"Did you call the doctor?"
"I will." Sofia said.
Doctors in the United States tell us it could take years before women like Sofia see the health effects from these type of illegal injections.
But before we left Caracas, we were surprised to learn she wanted to continue receiving injections.
Still, we had so many more questions: Does she have a boyfriend now? Is she getting the attention she desires from men?
We will keep in touch with Sofia and check in on her progress.