South Florida has become the capital of the Brazilian butt lift (BBL) surgery as women fly in from across the country to undergo the popular procedure. But as the NBC 6 Investigators have been reporting for years, at least 19 women have lost their lives in our area following the cosmetic surgery in the last five years.
Our reporting prompted several studies that changed the way these surgeries are performed.
“In 2019, because of all the deaths, the Florida Board of Medicine put a rule stating that doctors could no longer inject fat into the muscle,” said Dr. Pat Pazmiño, a board certified plastic surgeon based in Miami.
But despite the changes and a new state law allowing the Florida Board of Medicine to better regulate and discipline doctors when a patient dies or is seriously hurt, the death rate from BBLs has increased.
Get South Florida local news, weather forecasts and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC South Florida newsletters.
“In 2021, eight women in South Florida died from a fat embolism after a Brazilian butt lift,” Pazmiño said. “This is because this procedure is still very popular and there was a lot of pent-up demand after the pandemic.”
Reacting to the troubling trend, the Florida Board of Medicine issued an emergency order limiting BBL surgeries to three per day, per surgeon to avoid fatigue.
It’s believed fatigue may have contributed to the death of a 33-year-old woman who died after undergoing a BBL procedure at the hands of Dr. John Sampson last summer. An administrative complaint says he began operating at 6:32 a.m. that day, she was his seventh patient of the day and her surgery started at 8:31 p.m.
The NBC 6 Investigators get results
“Every surgeon who does the whole Brazilian butt lift knows that this is a very taxing procedure, mentally and physically,” Pazmiño said.
Dr. Sampson didn’t appear before the board at a Friday hearing and his case was moved to the next meeting.
In a letter sent to the board, his attorney Monica Felder wrote “...he has looked at the circumstances that may have affected his performance that day,” adding “he will no longer plan to start procedures after 6 p.m.”
Dr. Arnaldo Valls did attend Friday’s meeting. In 2017, he performed a BBL surgery on Kizzy London. The Louisiana woman died after the procedure.
During his hearings, board members questioned whether he was qualified to perform this surgery and said he misrepresented his credentials to obtain surgical privileges at a local hospital.
The board increased the penalty proposed by an administrative judge and revoked his medical license.
NBC 6 Investigators approached Valls and his attorney at the Friday hearing. They declined to comment about the board’s decision.
In another case, the board placed a one-year probation on the medical license of Dr. Sergio Alvarez, which restricts his ability to perform BBLs, except as an observer.
Alvarez was the doctor who performed a BBL on Danea Plasencia in 2019. The young mother died of a fat embolism following the procedure.
The state argued he committed medical malpractice by injecting fat into Danea’s gluteal muscle, something the medical community knew at the time could cause pulmonary embolisms.
When asked about the board’s decision, his attorney Sean M. Ellsworth told NBC 6, “Dr. Alvarez is a board certified plastic surgeon. He’s performed over 6,000 BBLs successfully. This was the one mistake in his entire career.” Ellsworth says he will appeal the board’s decision.
In the emergency order approved Friday, which expires in 90 days, the board also mandated surgeons use ultrasound technology when performing BBLs to avoid injecting fat into the muscle, which can cause a pulmonary embolism - the main cause of death in patients who have died following the procedure.