Charlotte Plastic Surgeon Works To Fix Botched Butt Lifts

Sep 5, 2018

There is one plastic surgery procedure that has more deaths than any other — a butt lift surgery that has become increasingly popular in recent years. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons is so concerned about the rising deaths from botched procedures that the group put out a rare and urgent warning.

Women have gone to great lengths and distances to get butt augmentation procedures. Some have traveled overseas, some have even undergone the surgery without anesthetic in homes or hotel rooms in the United States.

The consequences can be life-threatening. Charlotte plastic surgeon Theodore Nyame has seen some of those patients after they had complications. One patient came to him because she had fluid pooling in her back after getting the butt lift done overseas. Nyame used a needle to drain the fluid.

Dr. Theodore Nyame says it's important not to place the cannula, a medical instrument used to inject fat, deep in a patients butt.
Credit Alex Olgin / WFAE

“Unfortunately because she did this overseas, she had nobody to care for her when she got back to the U.S.,” he said, “I assumed care of her and took care of her until she eventually healed everything.”

Nyame has done this butt augmentation procedure for four years. The procedure can take as long as six hours, and involves removing fat from one area of the patient’s body and injecting into another with a hollow needle like tool called a cannula. Nyame said this year, he’s seen some other patients after getting a botched butt lift surgeries.

“Now, these patients are coming in they have no operative note so you don’t know what was performed," Nyame said. "So it’s hard to help if don’t know what was done. They feel let down because they put their trust in somebody who took their money and delivered, at times, substandard care.”

The problem — Nyame and the American Society of Plastic Surgeons believe — is that doctors are injecting fat too deep in the butt. He pointed to a drawing that showed the anatomy of the area. The sweet spot, he said, is to put the fat into the fat layer which is above the muscle.

“One of the issues that’s happened over time is based on an inadequate understanding of anatomy," Nyame said. "People that are not used to doing the procedure are placing some of the fat too deep. Some of that fat may get picked up by deeper veins.”

If that happens, it can cause a fat embolism — which is when a mass of fat gets in a vein and travels to other vital organs, like the lungs. And it can be deadly. That’s what happened to Symone Jones of Fayetteville. She died in 2017 after getting illegal silicone injections from Kavonceya Cornelius in Salisbury. Cornelius pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, and is now serving prison time for Jones’ death.

The mortality rate for butt augmentation is more than any other plastic surgery — one in 3,000, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. More than 20,000 people had the surgery in the U.S. last year, making it twice as popular as it was five years ago.

“We really have a sense of urgency here and we are looking to get this in action as soon as we can,” said Dr. Peter Rubin, the chair of the plastic surgery department at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. He’s also part of a group that’s studying problems in butt augmentation surgery — the Gluteal Fat Grafting Task Force.   

“We believe this is a technical issue causing catastrophic outcomes,” Rubin said. “And that surgeons are getting their instruments into an anatomic danger zone that is causing injury to major veins and fatal embolism of the fat graft material to the heart and lungs."

Rubin and colleagues are practicing the procedure on cadavers in Miami to come up with specific guidelines to tell surgeons how to do the surgery safely. Rubin said the group plans to publish the results this fall.