Heather Meadows’ cosmetic surgery vacation turned into a tragedy. The 29-year-old mother of two from West Virginia and her lifelong friend Amanda Rogers had traveled to Miami in May to get Brazilian butt lifts.
Staff at a Miami-Dade office then known as Encore Plastic Surgery rushed Rogers out of her operating room to the waiting room, Rogers recalled. She waited 45 minutes before a caretaker told her Meadows had gone to the emergency room. She never saw her friend alive again.
Meadows’ death marked only one episode in a sad history. State and local investigations dating back a decade have exposed deceptive practices and patient injuries at Encore and connected clinics. Another woman died in September after an operation at Vanity Cosmetic Surgery, a related office surgery center.
Both businesses changed their names and remained open at a single location. Tourists drawn to Miami for the increasingly popular form of buttocks augmentation known as the Brazilian butt lift may fall victim to the conduct at the fringes of the plastic surgery industry.
“This is nothing new in Miami. For whatever reason, Miami seems like the Wild West for plastic surgery procedures,” said local plastic surgeon Dr. Adam Rubinstein. “Unfortunately, the market is such that it’s caveat emptor. And most emptors don’t know how to caveat.”
A butt lift operation is the liposuction of excess fat from the torso and other parts of the body followed by a fat injection to the buttocks area. The procedure started in Brazil but caught on first in the U.S. in Miami, according to Rubinstein.
The number of buttocks augmentations of all kinds jumped by 86% between 2013 and 2014 and reached nearly 21,000 last year, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. The industry organization estimated the average price at $5,395.
Dr. Tom Fiala, an Orlando area plastic surgeon and the president of the Florida Society of Plastic Surgeons, said he charges between $7,000 and $10,000 for Brazilian butt lifts.
“I think that a lot of patients don’t realize it’s a major procedure, and it has major risks and it’s something that they really need to research before they sign up for it,” Fiala said.
Fat clots due to complications from a fat transfer caused Meadows’ organs to fail by blocking her arteries, Miami-Dade coroners concluded in an autopsy report. A heart defect involving an opening between her major arteries acted as a contributing cause, the document showed.
Yet the fat emboli that killed her likely came from an injection that hit a vein, according to Dr. Brett Coldiron, a dermatologist who studies office surgery safety.
“If you get it in the wrong place, it could kill you,” Coldiron said.
Members of the state’s plastic surgeon society want to help pass a law in the next legislative session to tighten regulations on outfits like Encore and Vanity, according to the society’s general counsel, Christopher Nuland.
“Bad events by bad actors in bad facilities sully the names of the best surgeons in the best facilities,” Nuland said.
Meadows suffered cardiac arrest after her liposuction procedure May 12, according to her family’s lawsuit. The suit filed earlier this month accused Encore of negligence in Meadows’ care, as well as a later business name change designed to “hinder, delay and defraud creditors.”
“Not only do you have the death of this young lady, but now you have two children who will be affected the rest of their lives by this tragedy,” said the family’s lawyer, Coral Gables attorney Herb Borroto.
Representatives for Encore and Vanity, which now do business as Eres Plastic Surgery, did not make anyone available for an interview or respond to questions submitted at their request. A lawyer for Dr. Ismael Labrador, the Miami doctor behind the outfits, did not respond to calls.
“Like so many of our patients, we too are opening a new chapter in our lives with our rebranding effort,” Vanity spokeswoman Giannina Sopo said in a statement to the Miami Herald last week.
“We have worked from the inside out to improve all aspects of patient care and we are in compliance with all local, state and federal regulations that regulate cosmetic surgery centers and businesses.”