Liposuction Risks And Complications

There are a number of serious risks associated with liposuction surgery. Accidents and/or medical complications may occur during the procedure or after liposuction had been completed.

The list below provides a clear picture of risks and danger associated with liposuction.

Infections: Open wounds are susceptible to bacteria. It may inflict a patient who was not properly advised by the plastic surgeon on how to care for the wounds after the procedure. Inadequate sterilization of liposuction equipment can also result to infections after the procedure.

Fat Embolism: Loosened fat enters the blood vessels that were ruptured during liposuction. They can also end up in the lungs or the brain. This can lead to permanent disability and even death.

Puncture wounds in the organ: In the abdominal liposuction procedure, the canula is inserted to suck out fat accumulations. The physician is unable to determine the exact location of the canula. There is high probability that the canula could puncture internal organs such as intestines, liver and lungs which may require repair. Puncture wounds in the organ is also referred to as visceral perforations. This case is more often associated with the use of large canula. The result can be fatal.

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Swelling or edema: In some cases, swelling may persist for months or weeks which cause discomfort to the patient. In some cases, the patient may find it difficult to perform basic activities.

Skin necrosis: The ultrasonic energy can burn the skin or the blood vessels that supply the skin. Skin necrosis is the death of skin cells which usually happens in the UAL technique. Infection with bacteria or microorganisms may occur to large areas of skin necrosis.

Paresthesias: Liposuction can alter sensation at areas where the fats were removed. The effect is very extreme as the patient may either have an increased sensitivity to pain or numbness. Some patients may retain paresthesias permanently.

Toxicity from anesthesia: The use of lidocaine in liposuction, a skin numbing drug can cause various side effects. It can cause lightheadedness, drowsiness, restlessness, a ringing in the ears, slurred speech, a metallic taste in the mouth, numbness of the lips and tongue, shivering, muscle twitching and convulsions. The toxicity of licodaine can cause the patient’s heart to stop during the operation.

Hematoma or Seroma: This may occur during or after the liposuction procedure. Hematoma refers to bleeding into a closed area in the skin while seroma means pooling or leakage of blood serum into a closed area beneath the skin. There is higher probability of hematoma and seroma in excessive suctioning, use of large canulas and UAL technique.

Pulmonary edema: Excessive accumulation of fluids in the lungs is a known cause of excessive doses of intravenous fluids during and after the liposuction procedure. Critical cases could lead to death.

Burns and/or Scars: UAL can cause serious burns in the nerve, skin, tissue or internal organs if the ultrasound probe gets extremely hot during the procedure. Scars may vary from small to large and prominent.

Shock or Fluid Overload: Shock happens to a patient when insufficient fluid is replaced during the surgery. Fluid overload is the opposite where too much fluid is inserted during the procedure.

Skin irregularities or bumpy appearance: The area where the fat was removed may cause ridges, ripples or dimple-like appearance in the skin.


List of Inappropriate Candidates for Liposuction

Misconception about liposuction and some plastic surgeons unethical behaviors usually end up with hazardous results. Although there are credible plastic surgeons in the country, there is still an alarming number who do not take precautionary measures to ensure the safety of patients during and after the liposuction procedure.  The lack of information of both patients and negligence of some plastic surgeons causes severe detriment to the health of the patient.

Medline Plus asserts that liposuction should never be employed by a surgeon to substitute diet and exercise, to alleviate obesity or to treat cellulite. It should not be performed in other parts of the body, aside from specific areas allowed, particularly the fats on the sides of the breasts as this may actually cause breast cancer.

There are pre-existing medical conditions and behavioral patterns that need to be taken into account. ASPAS provides a list of inappropriate candidates for cosmetic surgery.

This includes:

1. Patients who are going through personal crises such as divorce, death of spouse and even job loss. Patients in crises are advised to resolve or work through the crisis first as the purpose of surgery might perceive the change in appearance as a solution to overcome the crisis.  

2. Patients with unrealistic expectations such as those who want to imitate celebrity nose or those who had accidents and want to restore the original perfection. This will eventually lead to dissatisfaction and unrealistic sense of self.

3. Patients who relentlessly seek consultation with different surgeons to find one who will give them the answer that they need. The problem with these patients is not at all based on the physical aspect of their lives. 

4. Patients who are obsessed with their physical appearance and wants to fix minor defects. A patient under this circumstance is inappropriate if they manifest belief that life will automatically get fixed as soon as they undergo surgery.

5. Patients who have mental illness or even those who manifest paranoid or delusional behaviors are also deemed unfit candidates. However, if the candidate is properly supervised by a psychiatrist and if the purpose of the surgery is considered reasonable, then the patient may be appropriate in such case.

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Pre-existing medical conditions also play a crucial part in the administration of certain drugs and other potential risks that might occur during and after the procedure. Medline Plus provides a list of certain preexisting conditions.

This includes:

Most Common Causes of Death In Liposuction

American College of Chest Physicians (2009) reports that overall medical complication of liposuction occurs in 5 to 10 percent of the cases. Medical complications include anesthesia, seroma, edema, pigmentation, pain and hematoma. Abdominal liposuction can lead to pulmonary complications which include reduction in total lung capacity, vital capacity and functional residual capacity, mild hypoxemia and partial atelectasis. Pulmonary thromboelism (known risk of using general anesthesia, excessive surgical trauma and obesity) and fat embolism occurs after liposuction.

The most common causes of death associated with liposuction are ranked as follows:

1. Pulmonary embolus or blood clot in the lung

2. Infections

3. Abdominal organs injuries particularly liver, lungs and intestines

4. Drug reactions and side effects to anesthesia

The California Department of Consumer Affairs reports in its Spring 2006 newsletter publication entitled Consumer Connection that “deaths occurring from liposuction procedures ranged from 5000 to one in 1,000 (especially for patients undergoing multiple procedures).”

It states that cosmetic surgery has been one of the most lucrative medical specialties due to obsessive attention to beauty and youthfulness.

liposuction deaths


Liposuction Death Profiles

There is no public data that provides information about the total number of deaths associated with liposuction. Citizens only learn of the dangers of the procedure through individual reports of specific persons who have died in many parts of the world. Rowland (1999) reports:

“It's tough to gauge the extent of the problem because there is no mandatory or central reporting system in place to collect information on cosmetic surgery deaths and complications.”

The following profiles offer a glimpse of individual accounts of fatality in the hands of a plastic surgeon. The profiles below are just some of reported liposuction deaths all over the world.


Joel Cunningham

Date Died :January 8, 1998
Age upon Death : 33
Location : New Jersey
Cause of death : Heart Attack

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Jeff Cunningham opted for tumenescent liposuction for his abdomen in light of his recent admission to the NYPD Police Academy. He was supposed to join the police force in the next few months after his liposuction procedure in the 8th of January, 1998.

However, Joel suffered a heart attack during the procedure.  Reports indicate that the doctors who operated Cunningham were unlicensed. His family was awarded$40 million in a malpractice suit filed by the family against the clinic owners of LaFontaine Cosmetic Surgery and Ski Care Center in Manhattan.

Source: JET Magazine June 23, 2003 publication


Donda West
Date Died :November 10, 2007
Age upon Death : 58
Location :Chicago, Illinois
Cause of death : pre-existing coronary artery disease and multiple post-operative factors following surgery

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Donda West is the mother and manager of the rapper, record producer, author and singer Kanye West. The day before her death, she went through several cosmetic surgery procedures including liposuction, breast reduction and tummy tuck.

West reported consulted another plastic surgeon but declined to operate her due to the potential risk of heart attack. Following her death, a proposed California bill entitled Donda West Law was filed for the 2008 legislative session.

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The proposed bill would require medical clearance for elective cosmetic surgery. The plastic surgeon who performed the cosmetic surgery procedures of Donda West reportedly surrendered his medical license due to multiple alcohol-related convictions. His medical license was suspended on June 25, 2008. 

Sources: Assembly Member News Release Feb. 22, 2008 & Los Angeles Times May 26, 2008 


Amy Fledderman

Date Died :May 25, 2001
Age upon Death : 18
Location :Newton Square, Philadelphia
Cause of death :fat embolism syndrome

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Amy Fledderman, a rising Pen State sophomore student went through liposuction surgery procedure on her abdomen, flanks and under her chin on May 23, 2001.

The procedure was conducted at the plastic surgeon’s office. Two days after liposuction, she was brought to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. She was pronounced dead caused by fat embolism syndrome, a complication where fat enters the bloodstream and lodges in the person's lungs.

The Fledderman attorney was quoted as saying “She choked on her own blood.” The family filed a civil suit against the plastic surgeon and nurse anesthetist. They claimed that a blood vessel inAmy Fledderman’s neck was cut off during the liposuction procedure below chin. 

They also reported that the plastic surgeon’s office did not have a valid license from the Department of Health. The plastic surgeon liposuction privileges had also been restricted by the Main Line Health Hospitals.

A Philadelphia jury awarded compensatory and punitive damages of $20.5 million to the parents, Daniel and Colleen Fledderman. The verdict came seven years after her death.

Source: 6abc Action News May 23, 2008

Fabiola B. DePaula

Date Died :July 2006
Age upon Death : 24
Location :Framingham, Massachusetts
Cause of death : complications from the surgery including pulmonary fat emboli or fat particles in the lungs

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Fabiola DePaula, a Brazilian immigrant was planning to travel to Texas and wanted to look good for the trip when she opted for a fat-removal surgery. This report was based on the report gathered by News on August 1, 2006 from a woman who did not wish to be identified. She claimed that she visited the plastic surgeon to discuss having liposuction on the same day that DePaula was waiting along with other five other women for their turn on the procedure. 

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DePaula was operated by a Brazilian couple who travels back and forth Brazil and Massachusetts regularly. The couple would enter US under 30-day work visas. They operated an illegal cosmetic surgery clinic in a friend’s condominium at Framingham for several years prior to death of Depaula. The patients were allegedly asked to pay as much as $3000 for a cosmetic procedure. Authorities alleged that the cosmetic surgery procedures were conducted in a make-shift basement clinic. Patients lie in a massage table and sedated with prescription drugs. There was no emergency oxygen place.

Reports indicate that DePaula went unconscious during the procedure and rushed to MetroWest Medical Center where she was pronounced dead. The plastic surgeon is not registered to perform plastic surgery in Brazil and United States.

The plastic surgeon was charged of practicing medicine without license and illegal distribution of narcotics. The plastic surgeon’s ex-wife pleaded guilty to manslaughter and performing nurse duties for her husband. The basement owner was also charged of distributing illegal narcotics to plastic surgery patients.       

Sources: Medical News Today August 2, 2006, News August 1, 2006, MSNBC News January 30, 2008 & CBS News January 30, 2008 


Krista Stryland

Date Died : September 13, 2007
Age upon Death : 32
Location : Davisville, Toronto
Cause of death : massive blood loss (hemorrhagic shock)

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Krista Stryland was a successful Toronto real estate agent and a single mother of two. She went through abdominal liposuction in a private clinic at Toronto Cosmetic Clinic located at North York.

According to the expert report of an anesthetist, Stryland suffered from hemorrhagic shock while at the recovery room of the cosmetic clinic. The expert report indicates that there was a grave negligence committed by the plastic surgeon. More than 2 ½ hours have already passed since Stryland’s condition became unstable before paramedics were called.

On July 14, 2009, reports that “Lawyers for the College of Physicians and Surgeons presented allegations that (the plastic surgeon) repeatedly breached professional standards including using an "aggressive" liposuction technique that removed amounts of fat well beyond professional standards.”

The plastic surgeon is said to have “used false advertising and compelled patients to pay in advance for procedures priced at several thousand dollars with the understanding they would forfeit half the amount if they decide not to proceed” according to a college lawyer.

A disciplinary hearing was also launched by the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons under the allegations of "disgraceful, dishonorable and unprofessional" conduct in the surgeon’s care of 28 patients.



Denise Hendry

Date Died: July 2009
Age upon Death: 43
Location: Lytham St Annes, Lancashire

Cause of death: blood poisoning, kidney failure, heart attack and a collapsed lung

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Denise Hendry is the wife of Colin Hendry, the former football player for Scotland. He played as the captain for the team during the World Cup on 1998. Denise Hendry reportedly opted for a minor liposuction surgery because she wanted to wear a bikini after giving birth to her fourth child.
On April 2002 at age 36, she was operated at a private Broughton Park Hospital for a £2,400 minor liposuction. During the surgery, her heart stopped breathing for approximately four minutes. Hendry suffered blood poisoning, kidney failure, a heart attack and a collapsed lung. The doctors were able to bring her back through resuscitation.

She stayed in the intensive care unit (ICU) for six weeks under life support machine. At one point during her stay at the ICU, doctors have indicated that she only had 30% chance of survival. But her husband Colin refused to give up when he was asked to consider switching off the life support machine. Denise regained consciousness after six weeks. In 2006, she was awarded £300,000 in compensation, the largest payout to date in botched liposuction surgery.

But the botched liposuction cannot compensate Hendry’s perforated intestine and colon for a total of nine times. She went through 20 corrective operations since 2002. On May 2009, after 16 hours of reconstructive surgery on her abdomen at Salford Royal Hotel in Greater Manchester, she contracted an infection which put her to coma once again. That was supposedly her last corrective operation. Hendry’s husband and family were forced to give her up and switch off her life support machine when doctors told them she had no chance of survival.

Hendry’s plastic surgeon was allowed voluntary retirement in 2003 when the General Medical Council (GMC) agreed to request that he will be taken out of the medical register.

News reports indicate that the plastic surgeon is still performing cosmetic surgery in Sweden, his hometown. He is still permitted to operate abroad except for UK.

Source: News July 13, 2009

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David Scott Kelley

Date Died : September 2000
Age upon Death : unknown
Location : Seattle
Cause of death : unconfirmed

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David Scott Kelley was a dentist by profession. On year 2000, he went through liposuction on his neck and cosmetic surgery on nose and chin. The procedure was conducted at an oral plastic surgeon’s office in Seattle. Kelly’s cosmetic procedures were already completed when he experienced swelling in the lower part of his face. While in recovery, Kelley reportedly suffered internal bleeding.

His plastic surgeon brought him into a second surgery to determine the source of bleeding. However, Kelley did not make it. He was pronounced dead at a Swedish hospital hours after the botched cosmetic procedures. Reports indicate that the second surgery took approximately 45 hours that is why Kelley’s vital signs collapsed.

Further, the medical board concluded that CPR was conducted six minutes after Kelley stopped breathing. Kelley’s family did not file charges against the plastic surgeon but the family reportedly received a payment of $225, 000 to settle the case. The plastic surgeon’s was ordered to pay a fine of $4000. His license was not restricted.

Source: SeattlePi Special Report October 4, 2005



Lauren James

Date Died :January 22, 2007
Age upon Death : 26
Location : Caulfield, Australia
Cause of death :unconfirmed

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Lauren James worked as a Montreal property valuer when she was still alive. One Friday on January 19, 2007, James went through liposuction procedure on both thighs and buttocks. The procedure was conducted at the Centre of Cosmetic and Plastic Surgery in Caulfield.

Lauren was discharged the same day. However, she complained of pain and suffered from bleeding over the weekend. Lauren was brought back to the plastic surgeon on Monday. She eventually died at around 8pm on January 22, 2007.  
Source: Herald JANUARY 28, 2007

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Permanent Disability and Disfigurement Caused by Botched Liposuction


Mona Alley

Date of Liposuction : November 24, 2000
Age upon Surgery : 46
Location : Fort Lauderdale, Broward
Cause of Disability : perforated intestine and multiple medical complication 
Consequence : complications from the surgery including pulmonary fat emboli or fat particles in the lungs

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Mona Alley used to be a champion bowler. She was enticed by a local TV advertisement for Florida Center for Cosmetic Surgery in Fort Lauderdale. She decided to go through liposuction to remove her belly fat.

Mona had pre-existing Type II diabetes which she relayed to the plastic surgeon prior to the surgery. Alley claims that the surgeon told her that it will be “fantastic” for her condition. Alley was planning to go back bowling the week after.

The day after her liposuction, she experienced severe stomach pains and missed her post-operative check-up with the doctor. She thought it was normal. 

Two weeks later, Alley had become too weak that she could not even walk or eat. She was hospitalized over the next years. Findings indicate that her intestine was perforated during the surgery. In a lawsuit filed by Alley against the center owners and the plastic surgeon, she claimed that the perforated intestine caused wastes to spread through her abdomen.

Mona Alley used to be a champion bowler. She was enticed by a local TV advertisement for Florida Center for Cosmetic Surgery in Fort Lauderdale. She decided to go through liposuction to remove her belly fat. Mona had pre-existing Type II diabetes which she relayed to the plastic surgeon prior to the surgery. Alley claims that the surgeon told her that it will be “fantastic” for her condition. Alley was planning to go back bowling the week after.

The day after her liposuction, she experienced severe stomach pains and missed her post-operative check-up with the doctor. She thought it was normal.  Two weeks later, Alley had become too weak that she could not even walk or eat. She was hospitalized over the next years.

Findings indicate that her intestine was perforated during the surgery. In a lawsuit filed by Alley against the center owners and the plastic surgeon, she claimed that the perforated intestine caused wastes to spread through her abdomen.

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Over the next couple of months, Alley will become a regular visitor to the hospital due to infections and complications. Alley became bedridden. She developed bedsores and circulatory problems. She had no choice but to allow doctors to amputate both her legs above the knee. She was featured in a 2006 HBO documentary produced and directed by David Heilbroner and Kate Davis entitled “Plastic Disasters.” Mona said that she was told it was going to be a simple procedure.  Source: The New York Times June 5, 2006

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