MIAMI — Gia Romualdo-Rodriguez traveled from New York to Miami for surgery at Xiluet, a clinic that specializes in breast enhancements, tummy tucks and Brazilian butt lifts.
But during surgery this week, her oxygen levels and heart rate plunged. Unable to save her, the surgeon called 911. Romualdo-Rodriguez was rushed to Kendall Regional Hospital, according to Miami-Dade police, but it was too late.
She died at age 46. The Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s Office said Thursday that Romualdo-Rodriguez’s death has been ruled accidental — the result of an embolism caused by fat injected into her buttocks.
The case was the latest Brazilian butt-lift death in Miami, which draws women and men from across the country willing to risk the oft-dangerous surgery for bigger and rounder buttocks. At least 20 people have died in Florida in the past decade because of complications from the procedure, almost all of them in Miami, according to one researcher who tracks the deaths.
Fatalities involved in the popular procedure have happened so frequently that the Florida Board of Medicine last year set new restrictions for surgeons. The rule prohibits surgeons from injecting fat into or below a patient’s gluteal muscles because of the risk of piercing the gluteal vein, which can cause fat clots to travel to the heart and lungs, leading those organs to fail.
During a Brazilian butt lift, surgeons remove fat from a patient’s stomach using liposuction. The fat is treated and then grafted to the buttocks by injection. The rule adopted by the Board of Medicine requires doctors to inject the fat above the muscle and below the skin.
Still, at least three fat-clot deaths have happened since the rule went into effect, said Miami Dr. Onelio Garcia, a plastic surgeon who helps medical examiners on these cases.
“We have sent out all kinds of notifications to plastic surgeons about what they need to do (to) stay safe — more importantly, what they shouldn’t do,” said Garcia, a member of the Florida Society of Plastic Surgeons, which pushed for the rule.
The surgeon in this case was Dr. Stephanie Stover, of Xiluet Plastic Surgery. An employee at the office told a reporter Thursday that she was not available for comment.
According to her public profile on Florida’s Department of Health, she does not have any history of discipline and is certified with the American Board of Plastic Surgery.
Romualdo-Rodriguez, of College Point, New York, was transitioning to become a woman. According to police, she was also undergoing breast-enhancement surgery.
Florida’s Society of Plastic Surgery cautions against doing too much surgery at once.
“Make sure, as a patient, you research your surgeon and your facility and make sure you do not try to do too much on any one visit,” said Chris Nuland, an attorney with the society.
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