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Illegal Silicone Butt Injections Are Happening in South Texas

Veronica Zaragovia, KUT
Elva Navarro, owner of the Bella Spa in McAllen, Texas, was arrested on March 19 after she allegedly gave her clients injections of liquid silicone, which are not approved by the FDA.

Update: South Texas spa owner Elva Navarro pleaded guilty at her trial on June 9, 2014 in a federal court in McAllen to injecting a liquid silicone substance into her clients. This allegedly took place at the Bella Face and Body Spa, also in McAllen.

Navarro could face up to three years in prison at her sentencing, expected to take place in August.

Original Story (April 7, 2014): A few weeks ago officials arrested a spa owner in the Rio Grande Valley for allegedly giving clients injections of liquid silicone – a procedure which is not approved by the FDA.

The injections were allegedly sold as sort of quick plastic surgery: buttocks enhancements. 

No one knows yet how many women in the Rio Grande Valley have gotten the illegal silicone injections. Investigators say the procedures have led to lengthy hospitalizations.

Across the U.S., some victims have had limbs amputated after getting the injections. A high-profile radio DJ in Miami even died last year.

One South Texas victim, SanJuanita Herrera, agreed to speak so that women stop making the same mistake.

"Because of vanity, a woman wants to look better," Herrera says. "In that time there was a woman who was giving injections in the gluteus. Some friends asked me if I wanted to get those injections because a lot of people were getting it done."

In 2001, Herrera says she got about five injections on each side. She was told it was Botox. The injections cost about 100 dollars each.

"I felt really happy because I really liked the results," she says. "I looked really good. A whole bunch of us were happy. And I enjoyed it for years. But I didn’t know then how big of a mistake I was making."

Over the years the area around the injection site started to deform. It got lumpy and the surrounding skin became darker, because the skin was breaking down and ulcerating.

"I didn’t know what to do," Herrera says. "Because of the shame I didn’t know where to get checked. But I dropped the shame because I began to value my life more and said I can’t continue like this."

Eventually she saw a surgeon who told her she had been injected with silicone, not Botox. He referred her tocosmetic surgeon Filiberto Rodriguez.

"Anyone injecting silicone is doing so with a non-medical grade silicone that they tend to buy at Home Depot," Rodriguez says. "The problem is, is when you get to this butt pumping is the amount of silicone being injected is massive."

The American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery invited Rodriguez to speak about the topic in January in South Florida.

"The problem is the risk of death is such a large amount of silicone is being injected that it can embolize through the veins into the lungs and that’s what causes the immediate death. That’s a risk these people are subjecting themselves to."

He says a proper procedure involves a solid silicone implant that’s been FDA approved. The implants are placed inside the muscle.

In the last few months, at least three people have been arrested for allegedly giving these silicone injections. Most recently, the U.S. Attorney’s Office says 37-year-old Elva Navarro was arrested on March 19, charged with receiving an adulterated device and misbranding it. She’s the owner of the Bella Spa, which is tucked in a small strip mall in McAllen, Texas.

Last November, former Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño said in a press conference that many more women are likely giving these injections.

"It got real serious. They actively pursued this. I think we will all be very surprised as to the number of clandestine operations that are occurring," Treviño said.

Treviño, however, is no longer in office because he stepped down abruptly last month. Unlike Treviño, Hidalgo County’s Criminal District Attorney Rene Guerra doesn’t see this as a big concern.

"Our population has increased from 200,000 back in 1980, 1970 to about 1 million," Guerra says. "So if you look at the number of offenses that are being investigated and charged versus the tremendous amount of people moving in here, and new things being offered by science and medicine and what have you, the number of cases really is not way out of line where you have a feeling of too much danger."

But for Herrera, the severity of what she’s gone through, and the ongoing office visits with surgeon Filiberto Rodriguez, have led her to change her mind about cosmetic procedures.

"It’s really sad. It’s really sad to go through all of this. I don’t recommend it," she says. "I think if you want to look better, do it the right way. Do it the best way or don’t do anything. We should be natural as God made us. And not do anything to our bodies."

If the South Texas women are convicted for administering these injections, they could face years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines.

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