MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Friends Jeanine Ellis and Rachelle Demosthenes were looking forward to their trip to Miami in August. But the trip turned into a nightmare.
“I have to live every day knowing I went somewhere with my friend and I didn’t bring her back home,” Ellis told Local 10 News′ Amy Viteri.
The pair traveled to South Florida from New Jersey to get cosmetic surgery. Both women underwent procedures known as Lipo 360 and a Brazilian Butt Lift. Ellis says someone working at the clinic referred them to stay at a surgical recovery house after the operations.
“It says they had medical staff, they will have a nurse there for our first 24 hours of post-op care,” Ellis said.
Local 10 recently highlighted concerns over unlicensed surgical recovery homes operating in residential neighborhoods throughout South Florida. Many advertise on social media but do not disclose where they are located. The houses claim to offer everything from transportation, meals and post-op care, but none of those services are regulated and technically not legal.
Text messages sent to the women requested a $300 non-refundable payment for a two-night stay, payable through Zelle or Cashapp.
“When they picked me up after my surgery, they put you in the back of a van and they just lay some like, tarp or something down and you just swooped off to this recovery house,” Ellis said.
The women were taken to a home on Southwest 31st Avenue near 2nd Street. Demosthenes got there first after having surgery early that morning and called her friend in distress.
“She just started screaming and she just was telling me that she was in so much pain,” Ellis said. “She said I’m in pain. but they just gave me two pills.”
Ellis said when she arrived both women decided to rest. But hours later she woke to screams and people gathered around Demosthenes who was in and out of consciousness.
“So as I’m looking at my friend, I just see all this blood. She was bleeding, there was blood everywhere,” she said.
Ellis, who is also a nurse, said she recognized the danger and began shouting to the woman who ran the recovery house to call 911. But instead, she was told someone from the clinic was coming to help.
“The nurse is coming to give her IV infusion. I said, ‘No more. No nurse needs to come. 911 needs to come. You need to call now,’” Ellis said. “You just want to let somebody sit there and die? I could tell she didn’t want to call 911.”
Ultimately she said another woman recovering at the home got her cell phone to call paramedics. Miami Fire Rescue responded to take Demosthenes to the hospital, noting in their report they found a patient convulsing with seizures, observing she may have overdosed unintentionally on pain medication.
“She had another seizure, and her heart stopped,” Ellis said.
Less than 24 hours after surgery, the young mother of two was dead.
“Rachelle was 32. She had two small children and that’s the last thing she said to me,” Ellis said, “She said, ‘Tell my boys I love them.’”
Miami Police also responded to the home and told Local 10 homicide detectives are still investigating what happened.
“If we would have known they had no nurse there, nobody that was going to take her vitals every hour to check on her,” Ellis explained, “We would have never ever went there.”
Ellis believes tougher regulations are needed to protect women like her friend.
“Rachelle was a really beautiful person,” she said. “She really was. And now she’s gone.”
Other law enforcement agencies like Miami-Dade Police have made arrests in similar cases involving unlicensed recovery homes, and told Local 10 new state law is needed to effectively crack down on dangerous properties.