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Last Updated: Friday, 26 May 2006, 15:40 GMT 16:40 UK
Chile's lethal back street plastic surgeries
By Jane Chambers
In Santiago, Chile

Chilean women want to look good, but with plastic surgery costing thousands of dollars, many are turning to cheaper, more dangerous alternatives.

Recently, a woman fell into a coma and died after trying out a back street operation.

(Photo: Alejandro Olivares)
Rosa's lips are so painful she cannot eat hot food (Photo: Alejandro Olivares)
Someone else who has also had it done is Rosa Conos - she paid $400 (212) for a procedure to enlarge her breasts and lips.

"They use a thick needle which is normally used to inject horses. The silicone is liquid gel which is used to clean industrial machinery. They injected a litre of it into each of my breasts," Rosa, 48, says.

"I've been on my own for the last two years and all I wanted was to look as beautiful as I did in my 20s and to find boyfriend.

"But, now I look worse than before. My breasts are like udders and my lips make me look like a duck."

And Rosa's not the only one. It is difficult to get the exact figure because these procedures are clandestine and mostly done in people's houses.

But police estimate that hundreds of poorer women are paying to undergo this procedure.


The people doing it often do not have any medical knowledge whatsoever. Rosa's "procedure" was carried out by a neighbour called Claudio who made his living by injecting women and transvestites with silicon.

It's like provoking a fire in your body... The blood becomes contaminated with the silicone and your skin dies
Wilfredo Calderon
Plastic surgeon
"He told me that if I wanted to meet a man then I should get the injections. I went to his house and it was filthy," she recalls.

"They plunged the horse needle into my breast as if they were knifing me, but I didn't feel anything because I was drunk.

"After the operation I couldn't put my bra on because my breasts were so swollen.

"I had a blanket wrapped around them so that the silicon wouldn't leak into other parts of my body, but it did. And they put part of a broom handle between my breasts so that they wouldn't stick together."

According to plastic surgeon Wilfredo Calderon, what Rosa had done to her is so dangerous professionals would never do it.

"It's like provoking a fire in your body. The blood becomes contaminated with the silicone and your skin dies," he says.


That is exactly what is happening to Rosa.

The silicone has spread to other parts of her body and her breasts burn so much she can't use a bra. Her left arm is completely numb and she can't feel her fingers.

"My lips are swollen. But, the doctor has told me until they burst he can't operate on me. They hurt so much that now I can't drink hot tea. I am used to eating hot food and soups, but I can't anymore. Everything has to be cold.

If any one wants my advice I would say, 'go to a doctor and don't do it the back street way like I did'
"I went to the hospital and they told me they would have to operate on both breasts to remove the silicone. Before they can do it I have to lose 30kg (66lbs). It's very hard for me because I am so depressed I eat all the time."

Another group of people who go for the procedure are transvestites.

Bianca, a sex worker formally known as Jose, recalls: "I'd had enough of just wearing make up, and dying my hair. I decided I wanted to do something about my body."

"My aunt is also a transvestite and she had had the procedure done. So I went to the same person who did it to her.

"I felt feverish for the first few days, and there was a horrible burning sensation where it was all inflamed. It was very uncomfortable, you have to use a special bra for a month and it left me with a huge bruise.

"If I had the money I would have the silicone taken out now, and I'd put in implants which is really the way you should do it. If any one wants my advice I would say, 'go to a doctor and don't do it the back street way like I did'."

Rosa went to the police to denounce her neighbour and he has been arrested and sentenced to three years for causing bodily harm and performing unauthorised medical procedures, not only on Rosa but other women as well.

But, he is not the only one.

There are still hundreds of women in Chile who, not having the money to go to a proper clinic, are prepared to risk it and pay someone with no medical experience to inject them with industrial gel and change their bodies forever.

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