Today on Pushing Up Lilies, we explore the unsettling world of medical tourism, where the pursuit of beauty can take a deadly turn. Join me as I share the harrowing stories of individuals who embarked on international journeys in search of cosmetic transformation, only to meet tragic and sometimes fatal ends. I shed light on the risks and dangers associated with undergoing surgery in foreign lands. From unlicensed practitioners to substandard medical facilities, we explore the alarming lapses in safety and ethics that can turn a dream makeover into a nightmare. This episode serves as a stark reminder that beauty comes at a cost, and sometimes that cost is far greater than anyone could imagine. * Listener discretion is advised.
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0:06 Welcome to Pushing Up Lilies.
0:08 I'm your host, Julie Mattson.
0:10 Pushing Up Lilies is a weekly true crime podcast with spine tingling, unusual and terrifyingly true stories from my perspective as a forensic death investigator and a sexual assault nurse examiner.
0:24 Do I have some stories for you?
0:26 Are you ready?
0:30 We are back for another episode, and I thought that this week we would delve in a little bit to medical tourism.
0:41 That is when people travel either domestically or internationally for a medical procedure.
0:49 And we all know that there's a lot of hype now about Semaglutide and all the different ways to lose weight.
0:57 And of course, everyone can go to the extreme to feel beautiful and will literally go to the ends of the earth to get the best deal when it comes to cosmetic surgery.
1:12 Now, many of you may not know that I actually own a med spa north of the Dallas area as well as being a death investigator and having the podcast.
1:23 I kind of have my many hats, but we actually have a weight loss program at my med spa and we have many, many people that are on this and we sign new people up almost every day.
1:40 A lot of the bariatric and weight loss surgeons are not doing well financially now because of Semaglutide, it's much easier to lose weight that way where you don't have to exercise than it is to undergo bariatric surgery and have to take 6 to 8 weeks off of work and then also have potential complications that cause you to have to be off longer.
2:10 Also, the cost, I mean, similarly can be expensive.
2:13 If your insurance doesn't pay for Ozy or we go or Mounjaro through your pharmacy, then you're having to pay larger costs to get it somewhere else.
2:27 There also runs a risk of the pharmacy not having the medication.
2:32 And so some people are just paying a little bit more to get it through med spas like mine.
2:39 But cost is a major consideration when it comes to any kind of procedure.
2:45 And so in some countries, they're offering package deals which makes it even more appealing.
2:54 And they may even include airfare, hotel and even a nurse to take care of you after you have the procedure done many times.
3:05 It's cheaper.
3:07 Even with the cost of travel figured into your total expenses.
3:12 Cheap doesn't always mean safe.
3:15 And if you have complications, it could cost you more.
3:20 I've had a couple of friends who have gone to places like Tijuana to have gastric sleeve surgery.
3:27 And luckily it turned out ok for them, but it doesn't always turn out.
3:32 And I'm not saying that you can't find a good surgeon and a reputable place overseas to have surgery.
3:42 I'm just saying that if you see a cheap deal, it's not always the best deal.
3:48 When you look at it over the long run, it's important to research the surgeon and also know who's going to take care of you afterwards.
3:58 And is it truly safe to travel after you have this surgery?
4:04 If you go overseas, you may not even meet the surgeon until the day of your procedure.
4:11 And many people are discharged without instructions or any kind of follow up care.
4:16 What the risks are increased risk of a pulmonary embolism, which is basically a blood clot in your lungs and that's due to not being hydrated and also being inactive.
4:32 Now, there are steps to make sure that you're getting the best care that you can, but it's hard to know who is safe and who is qualified.
4:42 So you should definitely be able to meet the surgeon before the procedure because plastic surgery can affect the rest of your life.
4:50 The surgeon needs to be board certified.
4:53 Just remember that other countries have different standards than we have here in the US.
4:58 And when you travel, you're at increased risk again of blood clots because you're traveling and you're sitting still on an airplane on your way home after you've had surgery after you've just lied still, it's just not safe.
5:16 And if they claim that surgery is painless, you know that they're probably not trustworthy because you do truly get what you pay for.
5:25 And we all know that if someone cuts your abdomen open or injects something into you that it's not going to be completely painless.
5:36 If someone claims that, then that's crazy.
5:40 The reason I talk about this is because there are many deaths that occur with weight loss surgery.
5:47 And again, I'm not knocking it.
5:50 I'm just saying that we have seen several healthy people at the medical examiner's office who have thrown blood clots after surgery.
6:00 I have had surgery.
6:02 My family has a history of blood clots and that was my biggest fear because working at the medical examiner's office, I've seen completely healthy women undergo tummy tucks and liposuction and then have a blood clot afterwards and die when you see it over and over and over.
6:22 It's scary.
6:23 And as the general public doesn't always hear about every case I do when it's local.
6:29 And so that kind of puts a little bit of fear in you and makes you overly cautious, not paranoid but overly cautious.
6:38 Now, there was a surgery done overseas where a man actually lost both of his legs, and this is after botched weight loss surgery.
6:47 Carlos Saucedo, he weighed 275 pounds back in 2013 and he underwent gastric sleeve surgery.
6:56 I believe this was in the Dominican.
6:59 He woke up two weeks later and both of his legs had been amputated at the knee.
7:04 Now, the surgeon had punctured his aorta which cut off the blood supply to his lower extremities.
7:11 Could you imagine waking up two weeks after your surgery being excited because you know, you're going to lose weight and you're on this new road to being healthy and your freaking legs are gone.
7:27 Like, not cool.
7:29 Again, many people do flock overseas, you know, to save money.
7:34 I don't know what he paid.
7:36 But then there's also the risk of safety.
7:39 Like just in general, you know, when you're traveling overseas these days, we've all heard horror stories.
7:46 There were two women from Manhattan who went to the Dominican for procedures.
7:52 Now they were going to have a procedure called Lipo Sculpture, which is where excess fat is removed from your stomach or back and is injected into your butt.
8:03 The two drove to a wealthy neighborhood in Santo Domingo and one of the women was only 23 and she died of an embolism during her procedure.
8:15 Now, the clinic was shut down two days after her death, but it was reopened four months later, the surgeon was said to have performed over 20,000 surgeries.
8:28 They did their research.
8:30 This was a wealthy area.
8:32 And what you have to remember is a lot of these places are going to advertise all their specials on Instagram.
8:41 And that's how a lot of them are found now in June of 2018, Manuel Nunez was a New Yorker who also went for Lipo sculpture.
8:53 He died under the knife.
8:55 The doctor, this is crazy.
8:58 All the doctor who operated on him was a gynecologist.
9:03 I mean, he really wasn't a surgeon.
9:06 He didn't have experience in Lipo sculpture.
9:10 Who knows if he had any clue.
9:12 He probably YouTubed what he was doing.
9:15 But he also had a history of negligence, and he was charged with the deaths of two women in 2015.
9:22 But the charges were dropped because there was no evidence against him.
9:26 So here he is three years later, actually doing Lipo sculpture on a male.
9:35 It's crazy.
9:36 I mean, these are people who don't care and continue to work even after they've had charges brought against them, even after they've caused deaths.
9:48 There was also a 33-year-old woman from New York who died within a month of having a tummy tuck in the Dominican.
9:55 And that's not to say that this cannot happen in the US.
10:00 We all know that there are risks from all these different procedures, but a lot of OR’s are shut down due to post op infections overseas.
10:11 Again, the standards are not always the same here, there've been a lot of deaths and you know, we've had some locally, there was a big social media star who wanted to make it big in the adult entertainment business and she moved to the US from South Africa.
10:29 She specifically moved to California.
10:32 She reached out to a mother daughter team who were advertising on Instagram again, cosmetic procedures at discounted rates.
10:42 The mother and daughter were Libby Adama who was 51 and Alicia Gomez who was 23 and they met with this woman, her name was Carissa.
10:53 She was seeking enhancement again of her.
10:57 But now the mother daughter team were not licensed to perform any kind of surgery and knowing that she still scheduled three procedures with them to take place in the fall of 2019.
11:11 Now, the really weird thing and many people do this because selfies are the end thing.
11:17 But she took selfies and recorded a video during one of the procedures.
11:23 And in the video, you could see that she was on just a cloth covered table in someone's home in Encino California.
11:32 In the photo, you could see a syringe that was about to be injected in her backside.
11:40 Again, she had scheduled three different procedures with them and who knows, they probably offered a discount the more you scheduled.
11:48 But during the third procedure and this was in October of 2019, something went wrong.
11:55 She was injected with liquid silicone y'all.
11:59 And this is like you can buy this at Lowe's or Home Depot or any Home Improvement Store, but it is not to be injected in the human body.
12:10 That's not the purpose of this.
12:12 But they were using it for that.
12:14 She went into cardiac arrest and died and then they, you know, were nice enough, bless their hearts to call 911.
12:22 But then they fled.
12:23 So they took off.
12:25 Two years later, there were more than 50 other victims who recorded botched surgeries and the two were eventually arrested and charged with murder.
12:36 LAPD had to increase staff to handle an influx of calls from women who were reporting botched cosmetic surgeries around this time.
12:46 And so many stated that they were permanently disfigured and suffered gruesome consequences.
12:53 Again, you know, saving money draws people to all these illegal operations.
12:58 But if someone told me that I'm going to have to lay on their dining room table, I mean, it's not going to happen.
13:05 Butt lifts in the US are anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000.
13:14 They're saving quite a bit of money by going overseas.
13:16 But these two women were charged with not only murder but disfigurement and bodily injury.
13:24 And I think they deserve that.
13:25 I mean, you know, you're not licensed, you're advertising surgical procedures and you're performing them on real people, obviously, because you're greedy, you botch them and disfigure them permanently.
13:42 I mean, how can you walk away from that?
13:43 Not feeling guilty.
13:45 Thank God they got caught.
13:46 Thank God they were charged and they're not doing it anymore.
13:52 But where one person is arrested, there's three more still doing the same thing.
13:58 And again, it happens everywhere.
14:01 There was a case in Houston of this happened back in December of 09.
14:08 This lady was Miss Argentina 1994 and she died following complications from gluteal plasty to again enlarge her buttocks.
14:21 Now in the US, I think this is becoming more and more popular.
14:26 But she was 38 years old.
14:29 She was a model, she had twins, and she was injected, and the liquid actually went into her lungs and her brain.
14:39 Now, this happened in Buenos Aires, but she died again of a pulmonary embolism.
14:45 Now, it's unknown if it was just a complication of the procedure or a result of unsafe practices.
14:53 But it's unknown if fat was injected or if it was silicone.
14:59 Free silicone is not approved for this kind of use in humans in any country.
15:06 Again, the risk of that is if it's injected into a vein on accident, it's going to cause a pulmonary embolism, which is a blood clot which blocks the main artery of the lung.
15:19 Not cool causes death almost always.
15:23 But normally in the US, fat injections have only a 2% complication rate.
15:30 Silicone is often what's used in this procedure in South America and Europe Americans are lured by false advertisements.
15:41 Now, there was also a woman in Tampa Florida, and she was 32.
15:47 She surrendered to police after two women went to them with injuries after she botched their augmentation.
15:55 Now, one woman had paid $500 for 40 injections and one paid 250 for 20 injections.
16:04 What was used was a homemade combination of commercial silicone and Saline.
16:12 The women were both hospitalized due to kidney damage.
16:16 But again, not to say that this doesn't happen in the US.
16:21 You can't always look at the cost of things to guarantee that you're getting the best deal because it's not a good deal if you don't make it home.
16:34 Now, in 2021 Lisa Fernandez was charged with manslaughter after injecting silicone into someone's rear without a license and this killed a woman.
16:47 The woman was from Saint Louis.
16:49 This is the case from Houston where she was injected in April of 2018.
16:57 Everyone's trying to do it.
16:59 These people are not medical professionals; they don't have a license of any kind.
17:04 They're not nurses, they're not even medical assistants.
17:06 They are certainly not doctors.
17:09 They've probably YouTubed how to do this and thought, hey, I'm going to make me some money and then put an ad on the internet or start putting things on Instagram and if you get enough followers, you'll eventually get somebody that's willing to try it.
17:24 38-year-old Marcia McClendon had two appointments with Fernandez, which she said were extremely painful.
17:33 Now, the first injection made her sick.
17:36 But when Lisa Fernandez refused her a refund, she returned the next day for a second round, which I can't even imagine.
17:46 I think I would just like, say, cut my losses and walk away.
17:50 But the second procedure was stopped multiple times due to the amount of pain involved.
17:56 And silicone was what was being used, it was being injected through a syringe McClendon left that day short of breath and coughing up blood.
18:07 She went to the, but then was sent home and went back to Missouri before she had a complete evaluation.
18:17 When she went to the, in Missouri, she was ultimately pronounced and that was in April of 2018 and the cause was guess what a silicone pulmonary embolism.
18:30 Now, Fernandez was eventually arrested on a traffic violation and didn't have a driver's license.
18:38 And so while she was in custody, she confessed, but she advertised herself y'all as a beauty consultant and had been working out of her home since 2004.
18:52 She is serving eight years in the Department of Corrections after pleading guilty to manslaughter.
19:01 Not always a good idea to look at the money end of things in May of 2023.
19:09 And this is more recent.
19:11 There was a Kim Kardashian look like who died at the age of 34 from complications from cosmetic surgery.
19:22 Now, this girl up and coming wanted a career in social media.
19:28 The woman who injected her.
19:30 Vivian Gomez is 50 years old.
19:33 She faces two felony counts of involuntary manslaughter and practicing medicine without a license.
19:40 There are complications whether you go overseas or even domestically as a nurse.
19:47 I've seen them as a nurse.
19:49 I've seen just the infection part of it.
19:52 When I worked in the hospital, I've had friends who've had surgeries that have gone wrong.
19:58 They've ended up with what we call, we laughed about it at the time, but they had like breast augmentation and had part of it was leaking or draining or oozing and we called it Frank and boob.
20:12 It was just kind of our funny term, but really it wasn't funny because poor thing, it was painful, it was leaking, it was oozing, it caused her to miss work, it caused an infection.
20:26 We were having to change her dressings and so that can happen, that can happen anywhere and that's a complication that is manageable.
20:35 But when you go somewhere where the person is completely unlicensed and they're injecting you with something you can buy at a Home Depot or Lowe’s, the outcome is not going to be good.
20:48 They're not even trained to know where your arteries and veins are.
20:53 They're sticking this foreign body into you potentially into an artery or vein.
21:00 And when they inject that, it cuts off the blood flow, not only can it cause a pulmonary embolism, but it can also cut off the blood flow to an area in your body and cause it to become necrotic and rot off.
21:15 I mean, even in your face, any part of your body, like wherever it is.
21:20 So that's why I also encourage people in my med spa to go somewhere that's reputable.
21:28 Go somewhere where there are medical professionals who have been trained and know where to inject and know what to inject and are buying the injectables from a drug company instead of Home Depot or Ace Hardware.
21:45 Those are all great stores, but they are not medical supply stores.
21:50 Let's get that straight.
21:52 We see these a lot in the summer months in the medical examiner's office, we see a lot of cosmetic surgery related deaths or incidents because research is not being done because everyone wants to save a buck, which is under understandable times are hard, but death is harder y'all.
22:12 So do your research, find a reputable surgeon if you're having cosmetic surgery, find a reputable injector.
22:21 If you're having any kind of injections done.
22:25 Saving money is not always the biggest deal if money's an issue, man, save it over time until you can go somewhere reputable to have a procedure done.
22:37 It's super sad when you're excited about having something done and potentially losing weight and then you end up having all these complications and sometimes even death occurs.
22:49 I know it's not the desired outcome whatsoever, but it happens a lot and it happens more often overseas because people are pretending to be doctors when they're not like I'm not going to lay on someone's dining room table and let you inject me if I just met you.
23:09 And I don't know what you're putting in my body.
23:11 And not only that they can lie about it.
23:13 I mean, they could easily say that they're using what they're supposed to be using because you just don't know, you don't know, you don't know the people.
23:21 You don't trust the people.
23:22 So definitely you do your research again in the summer months.
23:26We see this a lot because everyone's starting to think about swimsuit season, and we want to look good in our swimsuit.
23:33We want to look better than everybody else and we're planning trips and just do your research.
23:39 Please, please.
23:40 This is super, super important again.
23:44 You know, I like to find these cases and tell y'all about them because of the dangers and the fact that they do lead to death.
23:53 You know, many of these people are arrested, many of them are not, many of them continue to perform thousands upon thousands of surgeries illegally and hurt, maim and kill people enough on that soapbox.
24:08 But just kind of a weird thing I thought that I should talk about because we do see these cases in the medical examiner's office, and we do our research.
24:20 Whenever they're reported to us, we're going to look into where the person had the procedure done.
24:25 We're going to request records and if it's an illegal operation, many times they're not going to have records and then that's when the criminal charges are going to come in again, just be super careful.
24:39 Do your research.
24:40 Don't always try to save money on procedures.
24:44 You want to look at the end result and the outcome and not how much money you save.
24:49 I hope everyone's having an amazing week.
24:52 It's cooler here in Texas now.
24:55 I think today it's going to be 90 but we've had little breezes here and there.
25:01 We've had some little rainstorms that have been a blessing.
25:05 But I again would love to hear from y'all.
25:09 Let me know if you have any stories, even if you've undergone any kind of surgery that has resulted in a bad outcome or if you have a family member, maybe who underwent surgery and died because of something being done illegal like this.
25:28 Again, there are going to be complications and those can occur anywhere, but you don't want to go to someplace illegal and I do not want to see you in my office on that.
25:41 Have a great week and I will be back next week with more stories.
25:46 I very much look forward to it.
25:49 Thank you so much for joining me today on Pushing Up Lilies.
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26:03 Thanks again for spending your time with me and be sure to visit me at PushingUpLilies.com for merchandise and past episodes.