Dilay Escalante took care of her large family when she helped them move from Venezuela to Miami.
"I started to study because of her. I started to find a job because of her," said her brother, Daivis Escalante.
Looking to better their lives, Dilay went into the real estate business with Tainna Shepard, the wife of NBC 6’s Willard Shepard.
“Dilay was my business partner, my best friend, my sister from life,” Tainna said.
Despite Dilay’s beauty, Tainna said the 46-year-old realtor wanted a change. She traveled to Colombia on April 20 to undergo a gastric bypass surgery at the hands of Dr. Carlos Sales Puccini, who had performed the same surgery on her in 2015.
Xihomara Contreras, Dilay’s aunt, went with her. She told NBC 6 Dilay left the consultation reassured by the doctor that she would be fine in three days.
Medical records show Dilay was admitted to the "Reina Catalina" clinic in Barranquilla on April 21. According to the records, she went into the operating room at 3 p.m. in "good condition," got a "gastric sleeve" and was released the same day.
"I spoke with them after and I expressed my concern that Dilay was not left, not even 24 hours in observation,” Tainna said, adding Dilay started vomiting right after the surgery.
Her family said, because she kept complaining of the pain and couldn’t keep fluids down, the doctor had her come to his office three days in a row for endoscopic dilations - procedures that stretch parts of the esophagus.
Tainna spoke with her before the last one.
“She was very scared of the procedure and … she was hoping that time it was going to work,” Tainna said.
But that didn’t stop the pain.
On April 28, Dilay left the doctor’s assistant a message at 5 a.m. saying she didn’t have the strength to get an X-Ray the doctor had ordered.
"…Sorry for the time, but I'm in a lot of pain…I need the doctor to send me something that I can put in the IV so that I can walk…right now I can't do anything because I could pass out on the street,” Dilay can be heard saying in the message.
Her family said Dr. Sales Puccini got to the apartment three hours later and saw her in such bad condition he said he was heading to the clinic to prepare the operating room.
"He left. He left her behind. He didn’t call an ambulance. He left, 'meet me at the hospital,'" Tainna said.
Oscar Aviles, a family friend, said they carried Dilay into his car and began driving to the clinic the doctor ordered but she was fading quickly so he took her to a nearby hospital where she was declared dead.
In a WhatsApp chat, Puccini told NBC 6 "There are no doubts about the operation," adding because it was a "bariatric reintervention … the stomach was narrow and endoscopic dilation was performed and it evolved well."
He also said Dilay "did not undergo" the X-Ray he’d requested.
Dilay’s aunt immediately went to file a complaint with local prosecutors.
"…That’s when they learned … he has eleven complaints in the State Attorney’s Office," Tainna said.
NBC 6 Investigators found the Colombian Supreme Court ordered Dr. Sales Puccini to pay the family of one of his patients close to half a million dollars in 2021 after the man died following a bariatric surgery that the court said was not endorsed by the medical community.
The surgery was performed at a different clinic.
Although the sign on his office’s door said he is a plastic surgeon, those credentials are being questioned by the local prosecutor's office that has charged him with lying to the Ministry of Education about his studies.
NBC 6 Investigators asked Dr. Sales Puccini about his credentials and the charges he faces but he didn’t respond.
"I wonder why he’s still operating," Tainna said.
NBC 6 reached out to the "Reina Catalina" clinic but we haven’t heard back.
Tainna said she flew to Barranquilla to fly her friend’s remains home.
"For me, it’s very difficult, heartbreaking and at the same time, I have a mission, I need to understand what happened," Tainna said.
Dilay’s family and friends are awaiting her autopsy reports to see what happened. They told NBC 6 they’re sharing their story to warn others who are thinking of flying abroad to get a procedure like this one.
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