MIAMI – A woman is suffering horrific deformations, divots, and deterioration in her face after an ugly attempt to cure the most common ailment of all: aging.
"You know, everyone was saying we are going to look pretty," said Maria Vega.
Now, though, Vega is coping with the reaction to a common cosmetic procedure. She has a bulging bag under one of her eyes, lumpy lips, and creased cheeks.
"You did it to become more beautiful?" Local 10 Investigative Reporter Ross Palombo asked.
"Yeah, it was the opposite," said Vega.
Being beautiful since birth, Vega wanted some help looking good when she hit 50. And, what she wanted was something new, something she had heard about at a party, something to fill her wrinkles.
She decided to try some sort of highly refined material that was described to her as rubber from a road.
"Very clear, transparent, like water," said Vega.
"But, it was still rubber from a road?" Palombo asked.
"Well," Vega sighed.
In Miami, someone injected it into her brow, forehead, and upper lip. There were three separate procedures costing $3,000.
At first, photos showed that it appeared to work.
"Very pretty, very nice," Maria said.
Five years later, though, the picture changed.
"I started touching," she said, "and I see something hard around my cheeks. I was getting bags, very weird bags. I think something was going wrong."
Doctors couldn't figure out exactly what was going wrong because no one knew exactly what was inside of her.
"We're not really sure what it is," said Dr. Joely Kaufman. "People inject all sorts of crazy things that can cause infections. Miami is one of the places we see the most reactions. We see people typically see them once a month."
"What sorts of things have you seen people injecting into their faces?" Palombo asked.
"Anything and everything... we've seen medical silicone... wheel lube... fish oils... shark cartilage."
There are only a handful of FDA approved fillers, and all of them work well because they're made of Hyaluronic Acid. That is found in the skin already.
Out of 1.5 million people using it, one study found that only 900 people had reactions. That's less than 1%.
"It's peace of mind," one patient said. "You're injecting something into your face!"
Peace of mind is what Maria was robbed of -- along with her beauty.
"Sometimes when I see myself in the mirror, I'm like, 'Wow!'" she said.
After more than 8 years of treatments, no one still knows what is under her skin.
"It's not good, compared to where I used to be," Maria said. "I'd rather have my wrinkles and not be like this."
For more information about face fillers, visit the American Society of Plastic Surgeons' web site.