Australian doctors have treated their first patient who has gone permanently blind from having dermal filler injected into her face.
A Four Corners investigation revealed that in April, the woman was taken to the ophthalmology department at Sydney’s Prince of Wales Hospital, where despite the best efforts of doctors, her sight in one eye could not be restored.
She was given the filler by a nurse at a clinic where there was no doctor physically present.
Prince of Wales Hospital ophthalmologist, Dr John Downie, who treated the patient, agreed it was “alarming” that a patient could go blind from what is marketed as a simple cosmetic procedure.
“The problem I get is that people perceive a cosmetic procedure to have limited or no risk, and that’s not the case,” Dr Downie said.
While fillers and anti-wrinkle injections such as Botox are often done by nurses in shopping malls with only a brief Skype consultation with a doctor, they involve injection into the face of a Schedule 4 drug classified under the Poisons Standard.
Dr Downie said blindness can occur when an artery is blocked by the dermal filler.
“The filler or other substance is inadvertently injected into one of the blood vessels in the skin around, or under the skin around the eye,” he said.
“That material goes back along that artery to one of the bigger arteries around the eye, and then it can flow and block off the blood vessels going to the eye, or inside the eye.
“It’s completely devastating. It’s like a part of you dying.”
Internationally, there have been 98 documented cases of blindness caused by fillers.
Kardashians inspire Brazilian butt lift trend
Australian doctors are also concerned by the sudden popularity of another cosmetic procedure that also poses a significant patient risk.
Four Corners can reveal the Australasian Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (ASAPS) has put out a warning to its members about mortality rates of the so-called Brazilian butt lift, or BBL.
ASAPS has referred to an international study based in the United States which found the BBL has a higher death rate than any other plastic surgery procedure, with one in 3,000 patients dying.
The average mortality rate for all other plastic surgery procedures is one in 55,000.
The BBL is a gluteal fat graft where liposuction is performed on another part of the patient’s body such as the tummy or thighs and injected into the patient’s buttocks.
Brazilian butt lift deaths caused by fat embolisms
Specialist plastic surgeon Scott Ingram told Four Corners the deaths were largely caused by fat embolisms.
“The problem arises when the fat, which is injected into the gluteal area, the butt, gets into the vascular system through the veins,” he said.
“Once the fat gets into those vessels, the fat then travels up through the heart and lungs and that’s when it can cause the problem.”
The BBL trend is inspired by reality TV sisters Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner.
Australian social media influencer Kate Szepanowski said the BBL was “the biggest thing right now”.
“About one in three of my friends have had that done,” Ms Szepanowski said.
Ms Szepanowski also said she had been approached by a Sydney cosmetic doctor who specialises in the procedure but is not a trained plastic surgeon, to have a BBL done for free.
In return, she would be expected to promote her cosmetic journey on her Instagram page.
“But then, as soon as I got the date booked, I got scared and backed out,” Ms Szepanowski said.
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