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Botched! Cosmetic surgery risks

Before you opt to go under the knife to reduce or enlarge your breasts, lift your butt, or reduce belly fat to get that perfect hourglass shape, think again. You may get more than you bargained for

Evelyn Makena @evemake_g

“It is just a simple procedure.” “There are no side effects.” “You will have no complications.” “There will be no scaring.” These are an avalanche of statements doctors will give a patient to ease their nerves and assure them prior to undergoing surgery, whether plastic or cosmetic.

But according to Dr Radovan Boca, a plastic, reconstructive, cosmetic and hand surgeon at Aga Khan University Hospital, there is no such thing as a simple procedure.

“All procedures have side effects and any surgery can get complicated if not handled professionally,” he says. A good case in point is a recent botched cosmetic procedure that put an end to a young woman’s life. June Wanza had undergone a breast enlargement procedure at a Nairobi clinic.

After the operation, Wanza returned home, but later developed complications. On Wednesday last week, she sought medical attention at Nairobi Hospital only for the doctors to realise that the surgery had punctured her intestines causing leakage of waste that led to a severe infection known as sepsis. She later succumbed to the infection on Thursday even as doctors worked hard to save her.

Fat transfer

According to Dr Loise Kahoro , Consultant Plastic Surgeon at Kenyatta Hospital, breast enlargement procedure involves filling the breasts with either implants or fat to increase their size.

This process is known as lipofilling. Usually, fat is harvested through a procedure known as liposuction then injected into the new part of the body to increase the volume, for instance, breasts.

“Use of fat in cosmetic procedures is preferred as fat contains stem cells that have the ability to regenerate and differentiate into the desired tissue,” she says. One of the risks involved during liposuction is perforation of internal organs, such as the intestines and the bladder.

Perforation of intestines can be fatal, especially when not detected early. Some of the complications resulting from intestinal perforation include bleeding, bowel infarction (that is death of part of the bowel and sepsis), which is a life threatening bacterial infection. Success of surgeries to repair the perforation depends on the size and length of time taken before treatment.

Plastic surgery is a specialty that has been taking root in Kenya. According to Dr Boca, plastic surgery focuses on reconstruction of extensive range of defects, functional deficits and deformities due to birth disorders, trauma, burns, and disease including cancer.

Cosmetic surgery on the other hand is a component of plastic surgery aimed at enhancing a patient’s appearance.

“It can be performed on many areas of the body. Cosmetic procedures are elective as their main purpose is to improve the patient’s aesthetic appeal, symmetry, proportion and self-esteem,” he says.

If carried out by highly skilled surgeons, the surgery can help achieve the desired results. “However, the procedure just like any other surgery is prone to risks.

Though cases of complications are extremely low, there are no guarantees that the surgery is free of complications,” says Professor Stanley Ominde Khainga, who led a team of doctors at Nairobi Hospital in helping save Wanza’s life after the botched surgery.

There are individuals who opt to undertake the surgeries abroad. Still, Khainga notes that those procedures conducted abroad are prone to risks too.

“There are many corrective procedures I have done from botched surgeries done abroad,” he adds. Some of the risks of cosmetic surgery include infection, asymmetry, dimpling of skin, fluid collection, nerve damage, numbness, blood clots, delayed healing and skin death known as necrosis.

Skilled doctors

For individuals that plan to undergo cosmetic surgery procedures, choosing a skilled cosmetic surgeon is key in achieving the desired results and minimising risks. Dr Boca advises patients to thoroughly research on the doctors treating them and ask questions. “Many patients are afraid they will offend the doctor by asking for his qualifications. I believe no fully trained surgeon will have an issue disclosing this information. In fact, we are usually proud to admit our qualifications and the opposite behaviour should sound alarm to the patient,” he reveals.

Additionally, the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board website, which publicly displays the qualifications of registered doctors in the country, can help patients avoid the pitfall of falling for quacks. It’s advisable that one visits reputable hospitals where they can access qualified doctors. Ideally, professional doctor should take time to explain to the patient the risks involved and possible complications.

Patients have different motivations for seeking aesthetic procedures. “A good doctor will ask the patient hard questions to understand the reason behind them wanting to undergo the procedure, and should be able to assess who is a candidate for surgery and who needs to seek help elsewhere. Sometimes the psychological causes can be dealt with by visiting a psychologist, a psychiatrist, or a counsellor,” Dr Boca adds.

Patients are also given time to think through their decision and seek a second opinion. Whether it’s enhancing appearance, turning back the hands of time or fixing a physical anomaly, opting for cosmetic surgery is a serious decision that should be well-thought out. “Surgery is permanent and should be considered carefully. If the procedure is not done properly, the damage can be worse than the initial problem and might not be repairable,” concludes Boca.

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