She’s not gonna make it. We give her 24 hours.
Apryl Brown remembers lying on the hospital bed as the doctor uttered those words. A sense of relief came over her.
“I didn’t think about losing my children. I didn’t think about leaving my mother,” she said. She thought instead of how death would feel. “Although I will be dead, I will not be in pain anymore.”
That searing pain came from an unimaginable source: a silicone filler, like the one Brown assumed plastic surgeons use daily. Hers was injected into her buttocks, with the hope of improving her appearance.
Brown never predicted the injections would land her here — dying in a hospital bed in June 2010.
Her body was shutting down from a staph infection that doctors said was connected to the silicone injections. Her limbs were curling and turning black, the visible signs of necrosis. Brown recalled seeing her hands in the hospital, thinking, “Oh, my God. I am going to lose my hands. I looked at my feet ,and they were dead, too.”
Doctors had no choice. To save Brown’s life, they amputated her hands, feet and the flesh around her buttocks and hips in 27 surgeries. Somehow, she survived.
Brown is still embarrassed as she talks about the vanity that nearly cost her everything.
Living a good life, except for a flat ‘flaw’
At the time, she was a successful hair stylist and owned a salon. When she wasn’t at her shop, she was busy raising two daughters. Life was good. But Brown always wanted to fix what she saw as her “flaw.”
Ever since she was a little girl growing up in Florida, Brown remembers being teased about having a flat butt. Growing up, she always wanted a fuller posterior and even had a mantra, “When I get me some money, I am going to get me some butt.”
In 2004, while she was working on a new client’s hair, she got her chance. The client happened to mention she did silicone injections cheaply. With a few sessions, she told Brown, she could obtain the shape she had always wanted. Brown was sold. A week later, she found herself in a house lying down in a bedroom receiving her first of four injections into her butt cheeks.
Following her second treatment, Brown remembers doubting her decision. “A voice just came to me like, ‘What are you doing? Are you serious? You are going to allow somebody to inject something into your body and you have no idea what it is.'” Brown decided that day to stop doing the treatments and never went back.
The true cost of the injections would come later, following years of pain and visits with doctors.
Brown’s story may be severe, but she is part of what the American Society of Plastic Surgeons calls a growing problem: patients bypassing doctors just to save some money on basic medical procedures.
“I think that’s awfully seductive to a person who doesn’t know there’s a problem,” said Dr. Richard Glogau, a clinical professor of dermatology at the University of California, San Francisco. He says he is seeing a disturbing trend, as patients turn to plastic surgeons such as him after getting botched facial filler injections.
The injections are used to smooth out facial lines. Some of the patients Glogau sees have traveled out of country and had these cosmetic procedures done cheaply. Others are purchasing cosmetic fillers from websites and self-injecting these dermal fillers into their faces. Often, the patients have no idea what’s in the dermal filler, nor do they receive the procedure from a licensed medical professional.
“People assume it’s just as easy as getting your hair colored, and at the end of the day it’s a medical procedure,” Glogau said.
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Traci Tamura and Kyung Lah