- Maria Garcia Arenales
- Special for BBC World, Madrid
“We are in shock. We can’t believe it.”
The family of Sara Gómez, a 39-year-old woman who died on January 1 in Spain after undergoing cosmetic surgery, is still trying to assimilate what happened.
They do not explain how Sara left the operating room with “injuries typical of a brawl with weapons” when presenting about 30 perforations of between 0.5 and 2 centimeters in organs such as the kidneys, colon, intestine or liver, among others, denounced the first lawyer that the family of the deceased had.
“We want the full weight of the law to fall on the guilty because it was a carnage,” Ezequiel Nicolás, ex-partner of the deceased and family spokesperson, tells BBC Mundo, who has already denounced for an alleged crime of reckless homicide both to the surgeon who operated on Sara as the anesthesiologist.
On December 2, the woman, who was in good health, according to her family, entered a private clinic in Cartagena, Murcia (southeast), to undergo liposculpture, an intervention in which fat is extracted through a cannula to later transfer it to other parts of the body with the aim of reshaping the figure.
After five hours of operation, the surgeon assured Sara’s family that everything had gone well, although she was somewhat unstable. However, hours later the patient was transferred in an extremely serious situation – due to loss of blood and other liquids – to the hospital. There she remained in the intensive care unit for almost a month, until she died on January 1.
The operation lasted longer than expected, it was carried out between 9:00 and 14:30, and it was not until almost four hours later when the doctor called the emergency service, according to what the first lawyer of the family of the victim, Ignacio Martínez.
“In the more than 30 years that I have been dealing with this type of case, I have seen everything, but this is the most incomprehensible of all,” said the lawyer.
In the medical report of the hospital where Sara died, there are injuries such as “abdominal wall necrosis, peritonitis, abscess with intestinal content, dissection of the entire right and left retroperitoneum with exposure of both iliopsoas muscles, large swelling and gastrointestinal congestion with multiple perforations” .
The accused surgeon, 38 years old and of Chilean nationality, assures, according to his lawyer, that the operation was carried out without complications and this was also initially confirmed by the anesthesiologist.
However, twelve days after the intervention, the anesthetist made an appearance before the Health Department of the Murcia region and assured that he had warned the doctor that the patient was suffering from episodes of hypotension and that the liquid that was extracted had a dark color. hematic (reddish), when it is normal for it to be yellowish when it comes to fat.
The lawyer for the victim’s family argued that, on the one hand, there is “clear medical negligence” on the part of the surgeon “in having inserted the cannula into the peritoneum (the tissue that covers the abdominal wall and covers most of the organs in the abdomen) rather than in the space between the skin and the muscle, which is where the fat is.
On the other hand, he added, “it is not understood why they did not stop the operation when they saw that the extracted liquid was reddish in color, and even more so considering that the anesthesiologist warned, or why they called the emergency services so late.”
The surgeon’s lawyer, Pablo Martínez, indicates, however, to BBC Mundo that his client did not detect any type of bleeding or any fact that would make him think that something was wrong during the operation, “because if he had noticed something strange, he would have stopped the intervention”.
“It sold very well on social networks”
Sara, who was the mother of two children and had her own company as a real estate agent, had previously undergone other aesthetic operations. “She liked to take care of herself and look good,” says the family, who describes her as an athlete and family person who liked to travel and the sea.
According to Ezequiel Nicolás, Sara’s ex-partner, the doctor who had operated on her in 2019 for an abdominoplasty recommended that she not have liposculpture, but when she contacted the now accused doctor, he assured her that it was a simple operation and that In a few days she would be recovered. He paid 5,700 euros (about US$6,500) for the intervention.
Sara had known this surgeon for three years through friends they had in common and what encouraged her to undergo this new operation were the images of “all kinds of aesthetic operations” that this doctor showed on his Instagram. “It sold very well,” says Ezequiel.
The judge handling the case withdrew the surgeon’s passport, but he has not been removed from his profession, as the prosecution claimed, so he can continue practicing.
Who can perform cosmetic surgeries in Spain?
Deaths in cosmetic surgery such as Sara’s are exceptional events in Spain, but it is very common for this type of operation to be performed by doctors who lack specialization in the matter, as the law allows it.
Currently, any person with a degree in Medicine and who has completed a specialty in Surgery can carry out aesthetic, plastic or restorative operations.
It is not necessary for a doctor in private healthcare to have an official degree in Plastic, Aesthetic and Reconstructive Surgery to carry out this type of intervention, while in public healthcare they do require it.
The accused doctor is a cardiovascular surgeon and completed a one-year master’s degree in Aesthetic Medicine at the Complutense University of Madrid, his lawyer tells BBC Mundo, who assures that his client has been a member of the association since 2014 and has years of experience in aesthetic operations .
Sara’s case has fueled the demand for a legislative change in Spain so that only doctors who have studied this specialty can perform plastic, cosmetic or restorative surgery.
“The problem is that there is no regulation adapted to social reality, we are governed by rules from 1958 (with some subsequent modification). In private healthcare there are doctors who use misleading titles such as ‘cosmetic surgeon’ and that confuses patients, because they believe that a plastic surgeon is going to operate on them,” Dr. José Luis Vila Moriente, president of the Spanish Society of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery (Secpre), explains to BBC Mundo.
The Association of the Patient Ombudsman in Spain received between 2016 and 2020 a total of 67,083 complaints of medical-health negligence, which caused 3,717 deaths.
Of the 13,000 complaints made in 2021, 300 are cases arising from a plastic, restorative or aesthetic surgery intervention, although in reality they estimate that the number of victims “can amount to up to 60,000”.
“There are many people who do not report out of fear or shame, because their closest environment does not know that they have undergone surgery and they do not want to say so. That is why we estimate that the affected victims are many more than those that reach us,” he explains to BBC Mundo Carmen Flores, president of this group that has been advising people affected by medical-health negligence for more than two decades.
Other times the victims cannot report because many doctors only accept cash and without an invoice, since “there is not enough control”, regrets the association, which calls on the government for a legislative change so that these operations are performed exclusively by specialized surgeons. .
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.