MIAMI – A Florida lawmaker is proposing a bill that would crack down on surgery clinics accused of putting profits ahead of patient safety after a string of patients have died at South Florida businesses.
The proposed legislation comes too late for Tarrance London and his family. His mother Kizzy London died in December of 2017 after traveling to Miami from Baton Rouge, Louisiana to get a Brazilian butt lift procedure at Jolie Plastic Surgery. London remembers the last conversation he had with his mother.
"Next time you talk to me, I'm going to be on the beach drinking mimosas with my new body," he recalled her saying.
The 40-year-old mother of two underwent the procedure in which fat is removed from unwanted areas with liposuction and then injected into the backside. She didn't survive. According to Florida's Department of Health she died from an embolism when fat was injected into her vein. She isn't the only woman who has lost her life at high-volume surgery clinics in South Florida in recent years.
"Who actually cares about the women?" Tarrance London asked. "About the women and not the money? Who in Florida actually cares about these women that are losing their lives and the families of these women?"
State Sen. Anitere Flores told Local 10's Amy Viteri she gets at least two to three unsolicited calls a day from someone who has been hurt or lost a loved one at a South Florida surgery clinic.
"You have people from across the country saying, ‘Well, I never want to go to Florida because that's where people go to die from cosmetic surgery,'" Flores said.
Several of the clinics involved are in her district, leading Flores to sponsor a bill that would give the state more power to push back.
"One of the common threads is these are being run as businesses by nonmedical professionals," Flores explained. "This is not I would say a loophole. This has been a gaping hole in the state's regulatory scheme."
The bill would require clinics to be owned and operated by medical doctors. Currently, anyone can own a surgery center in Florida. The state would also be able to revoke a clinic's registration following a death or serious injury. A doctor who loses their registration could be barred from operating in any facility for a five-year period. If passed, the bill would also require an anesthesiologist to be present for more complicated procedures.
"They are putting these people under and they have no expertise when it comes to what to do when something goes wrong," Flores said. "We want to stop the practice that some of these clinics do where some of these doctors, these bad actors, go from place to place to place."
The doctor who performed Kizzy London's surgery, Arnaldo Valls, has no board certification or known training in plastic surgery. Jolie's website has described Valls as one of their "most experienced plastic surgeons." When asked by Viteri about his experience, Valls claimed he was trained in cosmetic surgery, a designation not recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties.
Following Kizzy London's death, Florida's Department of Health placed an emergency restriction on Valls' medical license, finding he fell below the minimum standard of care by injecting fat too deep into a vein, sending fat to the lungs, which caused "immediate cardiac arrest."
The report said that Valls knew he was not competent to perform the procedure "due to lack of training and experience."
In a separate complaint from 2016, officials wrote Valls perforated a woman's small bowel during another Brazilian butt lift procedure.
In a settlement agreement waiting on approval from the Board of Medicine, the Health Department has recommended Valls be restricted from doing the procedures until further evaluation and pay a fine of $15,000.
"These are clinics that are being run by individuals who have no care for patients," Flores said, "They feel like they have no obligation for the safety of patients."
Kizzy London left behind two sons. Her youngest is now just 2 years old. Tarrance London said he has experienced deep depression over his mother's death and wants everyone to know how much was taken from his family.
"They took the glue away from it really," he said. "You take the nails out of the house it's going to fall."
He also had a message to lawmakers considering the bill and the regulations it would create: "Imagine if it was your family."
After Kizzy London's death, Jolie issued a statement sending condolences, saying in part, "Cosmetic surgeries, like all surgeries, carry some degree of risk."
Flores' proposed legislation, Senate Bill 732, is scheduled to be heard in the upcoming legislative session in March.