MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – After several deaths at South Florida plastic surgery clinics, local doctors have expressed concerns that patient deaths are only part of a bigger trend that has left dozens of women disfigured and disabled.
Marisol Ordonez told Local 10 News investigative reporter Amy Viteri she still suffers from the effects of what happened during her procedure at Jolie Plastic Surgery in August of last year.
"The memory loss, the panic attacks, the anxiety. I'm not the same," Ordonez explained through tears.
Ordonez said she was permanently injured after getting a liposuction procedure with fat transferred to her buttocks, commonly known as a Brazilian butt lift, or BBL.
"My client left the facility, still under sedation, and she could not feel her extremities," her attorney, Andres Beregovich, said.
"Literally they threw me in the back of my car," added Ordonez, who said she was still under anesthesia when employees put her in the back seat of her husband's waiting car.
In the hours and days after her surgery, she said she lost feeling in her arms and legs, then the left side of her face became paralyzed. She said she went back to the clinic several times, only to be told by her doctor, Jonathan Fisher, that she was experiencing side effects of anesthesia. Eventually she went to a neurologist.
"As soon as she saw me, she goes, 'What are you doing here?'" Ordonez said.
The doctor told her she had a stroke.
"They put me in ICU, hospitalized for a month," Ordonez said.
Board certified plastic surgeons Pat Pazmino and Daniel Careaga said questionable business practices at what they call discount clinics have put patients at risk.
"We found, unfortunately, the deaths that have occurred here in the county are only the tip of the iceberg," Pazmino said.
He shared a still-growing database listing cases of patients who have died after surgery at South Florida clinics and cases of which he is aware in which patients have survived, but have been seriously injured.
"You need to speak with your surgeon before you put a penny down," Careaga said. "Because this is a person you are trusting with your life."
But Local 10 News learned seeing a surgeon can be hard to do. Local 10 sent a producer undercover to several clinics. At no point was she able to consult with a medical professional. At Jolie, where Ordonez had her operation, the woman working the front desk was the same person who did the consultation.
She quoted a price for surgery and asked for a $500 deposit to lock in the deal.
"They are recommending a treatment plan, and they are now charging for it," Careaga said. "And that is considered practicing medicine without a license."
The pre-op manager at Jolie, Claudia Puentes, sent a statement that read in part:
"Jolie Plastic Surgery requires that all patients be medically cleared for surgery, before arriving at our facility for the Preoperative appointment. The day of pre-op patients will be evaluated by their surgeon, if for any reason the patient is unable to see their surgeon on the day of the preoperative appointment, one of our skilled nurse practitioners will do initial assessment and consultation with the patient, by the determination of the surgeon. The patient will also have a thorough assessment, done by one of our anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist, also known as CRNA.The final decision is made when the surgeon and potential patient have a face-to-face consultation, approximately 3-4 hours prior to surgery. In other words, the patient will undergo 3 assessments by our qualified medical professionals, prior to undergoing surgery."
At Seduction by Jardon & Cosmetic in Doral, another patient coordinator evaluated Local 10's producer, then pushed her to make a deposit to lock in the price on the spot that Thursday to come in for surgery as soon as Monday. An attorney representing Seduction, Carlos Santisteban Jr., sent a statement that read in part:
"No diagnosis are made during any initial consultation. The purpose of this initial consultation is to generally evaluate whether the subject patient's expectations can be met. For example, a popular procedure is liposuction with fat transfer. Not every patient is qualified for this procedure and this pre qualification can be determined in the initial consultation. Assuming the patient and the doctor are satisfied with the results of this initial consultation, then the patient is asked to execute a contract with our company and a tentative surgery date is reserved for the patient. At this time, the patient is required to give a $500.00 non-refundable deposit."
During Local 10's visits to Seduction and Jolie, at no point was a doctor involved in either consultation. Both clinics requested down payments at the time of the consultation.
Ordonez said she gave a non-refundable deposit the day of her consultation and later returned for blood work. She only met with her doctor at the time of surgery and said there was no time for questions, or any explanation of risks.
Months later, she said she is permanently on medication to prevent another stroke. She's still unable to use her left arm and forced to rely on family for help with basic tasks like driving and tying shoe laces.
"I forget a lot of things. I constantly have anxieties," she said. "This really turned my life around, completely."
Doctors also said it can be hard for patients to know a clinic's history because of frequent name changes, especially after a patient death. Just last year, Jolie went by the name Eres. Before that it was called Vanity. After each patient death came another rebranding.
"Just the thought that could have been me, ladies need to speak out," Ordonez said. "They're destroying families and it's not right."