Few cases lit up Miami's news cycle like the tale of "toxic tush" fake doctor Oneal Morris and victims like Rajee Narinesingh brutally disfigured by injections of Fix-a-Flat and cement.
But years later, illegal cosmetic procedures are still on the rise in Miami — at least according to the cosmetic surgeon who treated Narinesingh. He says he continues to see an uptick in cases of botched surgeries despite years of publicity and warnings against black-market injections and other risky backroom procedures.
Dr. John J. Martin, a cosmetic surgeon in Coral Gables, tells New Times he sees at least a “few patients each week” who’ve been injected with dangerous substances, such as low- or industrial-grade silicone, which can turn cement-like inside the body. Many patients come to him with severe deformities, nodules, and inflammation, some even with autoimmune conditions. According to some estimates, tens of thousands of these illegal procedures are performed each year in Miami.
“In most cases, these patients know they’ve made an enormous mistake, and they’re really paying for it,” Martin says. “What’s hard is there’s not always a lot we can do.”
In 2008, Martin began treating Narinesingh, a transgender woman who made headlines around the world after injections left her severely deformed and infected. Eventually, the injections were found to be a mixture of toxic substances, including silicone and superglue. When Narinesingh went to Martin, she had rock-hard nodules the size of golfballs on her face around the injection sites. (She had also received injections in her lips, jawline, breasts, buttocks, and hips.)
Since then, Martin, who sits on the board of the YES Institute, has become well known for his work correcting surgeries among the transgender community. These patients are disproportionately affected, he says, because they’re often among those most interested in changing their appearance but also usually can’t afford expensive surgeries. Especially if a person is also seeking gender reassignment surgery, the costs are exorbitant.
“If you look at Caitlyn Jenner, she probably spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on surgeries,” Martin says. “But most people are never going to be able to afford that, so they’re going to opt for something illegal even if it comes with risks.”
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In Narinesingh's case, the filler was injected by Oneal Ron Morris, a fellow transgender woman known as “The Dutchess” who was unlicensed and specialized in performing black-market injections in homes across Florida. She was arrested in 2011 and charged with multiple counts of practicing medicine without a license with serious bodily injury, as well as a manslaughter charge after one of her patients died. She’s now serving time in prison.
But often, Martin says, the injections are done by people from other countries who travel to South Florida and tell patients they’re registered doctors. They often tell patients that the mixture they’re using is legal in the country they come from and that they’re never had any problems, he says. And then a few weeks or months later, when the patient begins to have a reaction, the faux doctor has left town, never to be found again.
“People should know that if they’re going to have filler done, or anything, they need to see someone licensed,” Martin says. “You can’t go to a hotel room or an apartment or a garage where someone’s giving you liquid out of an Igloo cooler. That’s just not how it’s done.”