Astrid de la Rosa was left bedridden for two years after her liquid silicone buttock injections migrated into her spine, paralyzing the supporting muscles.
“We are trying to educate Venezuelan girls about the dangers of these procedures before they are 12 years old,” she said. “We have to get to them early, as parents tend to offer these injections as 15th birthday presents”.
In Venezuela, 17 women have died in the past 12 months as a result of liquid silicone buttock injections. The procedure, which according to Jesus Pereira, the president of the Veneuzelan Plastic Surgeons Association, an estimated 30 percent of Venezuelan women aged 18 to 50 have undergone, attempts to achieve a figure thought to be more attractive to Venezuelan men.
While the death toll resulting from these injections has risen since they became widely available in 2008, it has done little to curb the trend of Venezuelans seeking a quick-fix solution to what they perceive as physical inadequacies. Despite being illegal in Venezuela (sale of silicone carries a two-year prison sentence) the country’s Association of Cosmetic Surgeons estimates that 2,000 women every month are receiving injections of this biopolymer, either at home or illegally at unlicensed businesses.
“The injections take just 20 minutes, but they can never fully be taken out,” says Jesús Pereira, the president of the Venezuelan Plastic Surgeons Association. “100 percent of cases become complicated. It could take four days or it could take 20 years, but eventually the patient will become irreversibly sick.”
Because the practice is banned, women seeking the procedure must find a fitness or beauty-related business that offers the injections in secret (most commonly a beauty salon or gym).
The injections cost, on average, just $8.
The average Venezuelan woman spends 20 percent of her annual salary on beauty products, while 4,000 people go under the knife every month in the name of self-improvement. Indeed, most banks in Venezuela offer long-term loan packages specifically tailored towards plastic surgery procedures.
Sadly, it has taken the death of one of the country’s leading anti-biopolymer campaigners to awaken Venezuela to the dangers of these injections.
Mary Perdomo, the president and founder of the NO to Biopolymers, YES to Life foundation, died several weeks ago as a result of the buttock injections she received four years ago. The mother of three had used her worsening illness as a method to teach fellow Venezuelans about the fatal risks the phenomenon poses.
In 2009, Perdomo underwent the standard procedure of having 560cc of the poisonous biopolymer injected into each cheek. Three months later she began to have trouble sleeping and later discovered tumors that had formed in the affected area. In 2012, the health campaigner was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease: a direct result of her body’s reaction to the foreign chemicals. She died earlier this month following a heart attack.
Perdomo’s legacy lives on through the various organizations that work to educate young Venezuelans about biopolymers.
“For the past three years I’ve been on a daily cocktail of painkillers and antibiotics, it’s the only way I can live with the pain,” says Astrid de la Rosa, who uses herself as an example as she tours middle schools in the Caracas area.
“More than the physical agony, I was psychologically damaged by what happened to me,” she said. “When the rashes and fevers began, my partner left me, and I was left alone with a 4-year-old child whom I couldn’t support because I couldn’t physically work”.