The cost of vanity


May 22, 2008
By Laura Millar, 09/05/2010

Want a flatter stomach? Bigger bust? Line-free face? Then get clicking. A few seconds online and you'll find cut-price surgery at any number of clinics.

Buying your perfect face and body has never been easier. Or more deadly.

In the past year, UK clinics have seen a massive increase in the number of women falling victim to botched cosmetic surgery operations that have been performed both here and in other parts of Europe.

The problem has become so severe that The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) is now calling for the law to be changed to stop it becoming an epidemic. It says women's lives are being put at risk, with many being left permanently disfigured at the hands of underqualified surgeons. The association wants tougher legislation to protect patients.

"This hasn't come a moment too soon," says facial surgeon Caroline Mills, who works both in the NHS and private sector.

"Some surgeons are performing cosmetic procedures when they're perhaps not properly qualified to do so. Patients are being lured abroad because it's cheaper, but they're not checking the surgeon's credentials."

Surgeon Patrick Mallucci, a member of BAAPS, says the industry must be more tightly regulated. "You want someone who knows what they're doing and it's sometimes best to pay extra for that expertise," he says.

Far from being a problem linked with only non-UK operations, botched surgery is now rife in this country, too. And there's still no guarantee things won't go badly - and painfully - wrong.

Single mum-of-three Julie Roberts, 48, was left disfigured after her boob op went wrong. The admin officer from south London spent weeks researching a breast enlargement abroad, then discovered a website in the UK offering to match cut-price foreign prices.

Lured by the £3,750 cost and the thought of recuperating at home, she booked herself in.

"I'm pretty flat-chested and after my eldest daughter had a boob job, I decided to go for it, too," she says. "I'd spent ages researching companies abroad as I'd heard they were cheaper - then I discovered a British company matching foreign prices. It seemed absolutely perfect."

My implants were too high

Julie felt reassured at her initial consultation in plush offices in London. Her surgeon's professional manner encouraged her to book her op, which she paid for on her credit card.

Six days later, she had silicone implants inserted under her chest muscles to take her from a 34A to a 34C.

Waking up swollen, but in minimal pain, Julie was happy with the results of the op.

"But by the time I went for my 12-week check-up, I'd noticed my implants seemed a bit too high and there was an area of sagging skin under my right breast," she remembers.

Her surgeon recommended massaging the implant so it would eventually 'drop' into place. But 12 months later, nothing had changed and her breast was still drooping.

After complaining, her surgeon agreed to replace the implants with a slightly bigger pair to try to fill the space.

But this time Julie was left with a dent of scar tissue on the side of her left breast, causing it to point out towards her arm. A second revision surgery still didn't work - leaving Julie with a 'bubble', a large lump sticking out of her chest where the muscle had been pulled away from the chest wall.

When the surgeon said there was nothing more he could do until her scars had healed in six months' time, Julie was left feeling deformed and her confidence plummeted. Instead of embracing her new figure, she hid it under baggy tops.

According to Patrick Mallucci, her problem is a common one among underqualified and inexperienced surgeons.

"The surgeon hadn't created a large enough 'pocket' under the muscles for the implant and it wasn't filling the cavity properly," he explains.

"The 'bubble' effect is a well-known complication. It's a sign of poor planning by a surgeon.

"He's not properly looking at skin quality, placing of the implant, or the size of the cavity it's being inserted into."

Negligence claims linked to cosmetic surgery have rocketed in the last year, according to Transform, Britain's largest cosmetic surgery group. It's seen a whopping 72 per cent increase in patients wanting its surgeons to correct operations that have gone wrong in other practices. The most commonly botched operations are boob and nose jobs and tummy tucks.

Another victim of unsuccessful surgery is mum Kelly Hodges, 32, who still carries the horrific scarring from a botched tummy tuck operation that almost killed her. She ended up on life support and fighting for her life - all because she wanted a flat stomach.

"I wish I had done more research and asked more questions, but I chose a surgeon I thought was reputable. He had a website and nice offices," she says. "I'd even seen him on TV."

After a consultation, Kelly decided to take out a loan to pay for the £4,200 operation.

"I just wanted to get my old body back," she says. "After having my first baby, Colleen, in 2000, I slimmed down quickly. But four years later, when my son Tyler arrived, it was different.

"I'd ballooned from 10st to 15st when I was pregnant, and despite working out and dieting afterwards, I couldn't shift the saggy flap of skin that hung over my waistband. I was stuck at a size 14 and I hated it. Surgery seemed like the answer to my prayers."

In February 2006, Kelly had the two-hour operation at the clinic. She had liposuction to remove fat from her thighs, had her stomach muscles stitched tighter, and then had 2lb of excess skin cut away from her tummy.

I could see fluid leaking from my stomach

But within a week she was fighting for her life in intensive care. Her experience echoes the tragic case of Denise Hendry, wife of former Scotland footballer Colin, who died last year aged 43 after an operation to repair damage caused by botched liposuction in 2002.

The original liposuction operation had left Denise in a coma, scarred her for life, and saw her needing 20 more operations to correct the original surgery. Had it not been for her quick-thinking GP, Kelly could have suffered the same fate.

"I was discharged two days after my operation - my tummy felt tight and I was uncomfortable, but otherwise I felt fine," she says.

Just days later, however, her wound became infected.

"I woke up and the corset I had been instructed to wear after the operation was soaked in a rotten-smelling, brownish-green liquid," she says. "When I took it off, I could see fluid leaking from tiny holes in my stomach." Horrified, she called her surgeon.

"He told me he'd deal with me the next day," she says. "I couldn't believe it. I was in a lot of pain, but thought he must know best. He was the expert after all."

When Kelly went to see him, her surgeon injected her stomach with a bleaching agent, then cut out a small, discoloured piece of skin near her belly button, saying it was a blood clot. Afterwards he sent her home.

The next morning, Kelly woke up in excruciating pain. She looked at her wound - and could see right through to the muscle underneath.

Her surgeon said he was too busy to see her that day, so she went to her GP - who immediately called an ambulance and sent her to hospital. On examining her there, doctors said her wound had been stitched too tightly. It had caused the skin to stretch, then split, opening her wound up to infection.

Kelly was admitted to intensive care and put on a life-saving antibiotic drip to prevent her from developing blood poisoning. Over the next few days, she drifted in and out of consciousness. It took her three weeks to recover from the infection, which ate away her skin, but her ordeal didn't end there. For the next two months she remained in hospital, where she was treated with a procedure that helped soak up the fluid from her stomach and encouraged new skin to grow in the area.

Four years on, Kelly's body has healed. But she'll never recover from what she went through and she is now suing her surgeonfor negligence.

"I thought having a tummy tuck would be the answer to everything," she says.

"But my kids were almost left without a mum because of my vanity. I'd never dreamed cosmetic surgery could be so dangerous. It's just not worth it."

Both Julie and Kelly have since had their surgery corrected by skilled medics for the Channel 4 programme The Ugly Face Of Beauty.

They discovered that Julie's surgeon had used a brand of implant called PIP, which was withdrawn from the US market 10 years ago due to problems with rupturing. This implant was also banned in France and Sweden and surgeons in the UK have since been advised not to use them.

Thankfully, the show's experts removed them before they could do any more damage to Julie.

"I had no idea what was being put into my body," she admits. "I feel so stupid. I hadn't even thought to ask."

Channel 4's Dr Christian Jessen believes that would-be patients need to take cosmetic procedures more seriously.

"You get what you pay for with cosmetic surgery, just like anything else," he says. "Often people don't feel it is as risky as a purely medical procedure, but it can involve a major operation," he says. "People don't seem to factor that in when they're deciding which surgeon to go to for their surgery.

"They're more likely to research the lowest cost than they are to find out who's got the most qualifications or experience. It's foolish and risky.

"You need to research all surgery carefully, no matter where you have it done. Asking questions is the key to a successful outcome.

"And you must ensure the surgeon is fully qualified, and a member of either BAAPS or BAPRAS (British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons) before you let them anywhere near you," he advises.

"If you're certain surgery is for you, make sure you do your research. Find out every single step of the procedure and what could, and does, go wrong. Your life could depend on it."

'Surgery left my face disfigured'

Kim Watson, 53, is a mature student, mum of eight and full-time carer to her son Kieron, 21, who has Asperger's syndrome. She lives in Largs, Scotland, with her driving instructor husband Stephen, 52.
"Looking in the mirror after a face and eyebrow lift, I recoiled in horror. Instead of being fresh and line-free, my right eyebrow sagged into my eye and was paralysed.

My husband, Stephen, reassured me that the surgeon would be able to sort it out. Little did I know that, due to his botched procedure, the nerve above my eyebrow had been permanently damaged and I'd never be able to move it again. All because I'd wanted to take a few years off my face.

I'd decided to have a lift to look fresher. The strain of caring for my eight children had made me look 10 years older than I was. My face was saggy and my eyelids were droopy.

After doing research online and watching every TV show on cosmetic surgery I could, I booked an appointment with a UK company I believed to be reputable.

At my first appointment with an administrator, I decided to have a tummy tuck as well as a lower face and eyebrow lift. The total price was £14,000. It was steep, but we remortgaged the house as Stephen knew how much having surgery meant to me.

When I saw the surgeon, he mentioned risks like infection or temporary numbness, but nothing too serious. I had the tummy tuck first, and was happy with the results, so I had no worries about the lower facelift four months later.

But when I came round, the surgeon told me he'd given me a full facelift for a better effect. As I'd only paid for a lower one, I told myself I'd got more for my money.

But when the bandages came off, I was so upset. The surgeon insisted it would be OK if I did some facial exercises, and that if nothing improved, he'd give me a brow lift. Six months later, I still looked the same, so I went under the knife again.

This time, he attached clips to the skin in my forehead to lift it. They broke, causing excruciating pain and making my eyelid droop further.

I was furious and looked into legal action, but because the surgeon had offered to repair the damage, I didn't have a case.

I've since had another eyebrow lift to correct the problem. Thankfully, that was a success, but I'm still angry about what happened. Instead of boosting my self-esteem, it's left me permanently disfigured.

For me, the risks weren't properly explained, the aftercare wasn't adequate, and I think surgeons should point out that patients are free to get a second opinion."


Damn. Makes you think, doesn't it? Everytime you look in the mirror, and think... hmmm if only this or that were a little, bigger/tighter/smaller....then I'd be perfect.

Damn. Just damn.

Unhappy Camper

Hells yeah
Mar 10, 2008
Fayettenam Area, NC
Damn. Makes you think, doesn't it? Everytime you look in the mirror, and think... hmmm if only this or that were a little, bigger/tighter/smaller....then I'd be perfect.

Damn. Just damn.

Personally I have no issue with folks getting medically altered. In fact I'm 100% in support of an adult, on a position of lucid responsibility, making a decision to alter them self in any fashion they see fit as long as it is not a hazard to those around them or the general public.

In other words ... I want my PRO athletes to be huge hulking Roid heads, when a dude is paid 100 million $$ to play with balls then fuck it... I want that guy to be of freakish proportions, to hell with the folks that cry for purity of the game.

Also .. If a chick wants to rip her guts out in order to fit into a size 3 then that's her decision.

I have talked bout having Lasik surgery soon. That is an elected COSMETIC procedure in most cases when done simply to do away with glasses.

Unhappy Camper

Hells yeah
Mar 10, 2008
Fayettenam Area, NC
Hey, I'm thinking of that one as well. Will cost me one months pay for it.

I could have had it for free while on Active duty. But at the time it was not as prolific as it is today and the military deemed it a procedure that would disqualify me for high altitude training. SO I passed.

But now, not sure how much it will cost, have to go get an eval.