Fat clots in heart, lung killed cosmetic surgery patient

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The Miami-Dade medical examiner’s office on Thursday confirmed that fat clots in the heart and lungs killed a 40-year-old woman from Louisiana during cosmetic surgery at a storefront clinic in December — making her at least the sixth patient in Miami-Dade County since 2013 who has died from the same complication arising from the same surgical procedure, commonly known as a Brazilian butt lift.

Kizzy London, a mother of two from Baton Rouge, died on Dec. 14 at Jolie Surgery Center at 8504 SW Eighth St. after fat clots clogged the arteries of her heart and lungs, according to the medical examiner’s report.

The fat clots likely traveled to London’s heart and lungs after entering her body through a vein deep in her buttocks, said Dr. Pat Pazmiño, a Miami plastic surgeon who reviewed the medical examiner’s report at the Herald’s request.

“What we’re seeing is an injury to the inferior glutteal vein,” Pazmiño said. “Once you have an injury to the glutteal vein, and if you have fat injected in the vicinity [then]the fat will go into the vein, and all veins bring blood back to the heart and lungs.”

During a Brazilian butt lift, surgeons use a metal rod called a cannula to suction fat through a surgical incision, plunging the instrument in and out of the patient’s body. The suctioned fat is treated and then grafted to the buttocks through surgical incisions.

The medical examiner’s report noted that London’s heart and lungs contained numerous fat clots throughout the organs and evidence of hemorrhaging around a blood vessel deep in her right buttock, near her sciatic nerve.

London’s surgery was performed by Dr. Arnaldo Valls, a family doctor who is not board certified in any specialty and carries no medical malpractice insurance, according to his physician profile maintained by the Florida Department of Health.

Valls could not be reached for comment Thursday. He issued a written statement in December following London’s death. Valls said London’s heart stopped beating toward the end of the surgery, and that the clinic’s medical staff tried to resuscitate her before calling 911. She was taken to Kendall Regional Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead.

In the statement, Valls said that surgeries carry risks and that he has performed thousands of surgeries with “a clean record.”

But complications from Brazilian butt lift surgeries have some plastic surgeons worried, particularly in South Florida, where some doctors have been collaborating with the Miami-Dade medical examiner’s office to better understand what’s happening.

Dr. Emma Lew, chief medical examiner for Miami-Dade, said in July that local plastic surgeons have been helping her office identify the root cause of the deaths.

“It’s a scary, tragic situation,” Lew said, “and the sooner we get to the source of it all, the reason why this is happening, the better it will be for everybody.”

The Miami-Dade medical examiner’s office is not the only group looking into the potential dangers of Brazilian butt lifts.

Dr. J. Peter Rubin, a plastic surgeon with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said that the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and other groups were alarmed by the number of deaths involving Brazilian butt lifts.

Fat grafting to the buttocks has been performed safely for decades by experienced surgeons, Rubin said. But now an international group of plastic surgery societies — calling themselves the Multi-Society Gluteal Fat Grafting Task Force — is re-evaluating surgical techniques and other factors that could be putting patients’ lives at risk.

Rubin said it was too early to tell if some surgeons were grafting fat too deeply into the buttocks and rupturing blood vessels and arteries, allowing fat clots to enter the blood stream.

Rubin said that as Brazilian butt lifts gain popularity, more surgeons will be motivated to perform the procedure. He urged patients to seek the advice of a board certified plastic surgeon when considering the procedure.