Why Do Some People Die After Plastic Surgery?

This week's New Times cover story is an in-depth look at Strax Rejuvenation and Aesthetics Institute, a popular plastic surgery center in Lauderhill where four patients have died after operations in the past three years.

Strax officials say their mortality rate is in line with the national average, since their board-certified doctors have performed 90,000 procedures. They also point out that two of the deaths occurred hours or days after the operations. One patient died of a drug overdose nearly 12 hours after her surgery, and another died eight days after her operation, for unknown reasons.

How common is it for patients to die days after they leave a plastic surgery operating room, and why? A national study, published in 2008 in the medical journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery sheds some light on these questions. The study's authors examined 1.1 million outpatient cosmetic surgery procedures,and found that 23 patients died (a rate of two deaths per 100,000 procedures). Many died several days after their operations, and their experiences were similar to the deaths of some patients at Strax.

See also: Strax Rejuvenation Responds to New Times Cover Story

  • More than half the deaths in the study-- a total of 13-- were caused by a pulmonary embolism,a blood clot that clogged the arteries in the patient's lungs. Lidvian Zelaya, a 35-year-old woman who had a fat transfer surgery at Strax last December, died of a fat embolism. A glob of fat entered her bloodstream and clogged her arteries.

  • Three patients in the study died of suspected drug overdoses from the pain medicines they were given after their surgeries. One Strax patient died nearly 12 hours after her surgery from a toxic combination of pain meds, including a "lethal level" of a narcotic she had been given during her operation. An attorney for the surgeon who performed the operation wrote a letter to the Florida Health Department arguing the patient must have taken additional narcotics after her surgery, because there was "no other medical explanation" for her having a lethal dose in her system 12 hours after the procedure.

  • Two patients in the study died of heart-related illnesses. One 54-year-old woman had a heart attack two days after a tummy tuck and liposuction operation, and a 45-year-old died of heart disease three weeks after a receiving a tummy tuck and breast augmentation. Rony Wendrow, 61, the sister of Broward County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman, developed respiratory and heart problems during neck and eyelid surgery at Strax last month. She was rushed to the hospital and died three days later. 

  • See also: Strax Rejuvenation CEO Jeffry Davis Has Criminal Record 

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    Lisa Rab
    Contact: Lisa Rab