Breast surgery proved fatal for a 35-year old beauty salon owner, Jean Huang, in Sydney last week. She died after the procedure went terribly wrong and her death is a tragic and permanent reminder that cosmetic procedures are not without risk.
Huang suffered a cardiac arrest on Wednesday after allegedly being administered an anesthetic and breast filler, at her Chippendale salon, the Medi Beauty Clinic.
The operation was reportedly performed by Jie Shao, a Chinese tourist without any medical qualifications in Australia, who is being held in custody facing charges for manslaughter. This has been upgraded from the charges she originally faced of recklessly inflicting grievous bodily harm and using poison to endanger life.
Huang died at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital on Friday and it shines the spotlight on the murky waters of cosmetic surgery: an industry that is ripe for exploitation and reform.
Huang’s death has prompted the New South Wales Government to consider tightening regulations.
"Generally beauty therapy facilities that only do beauty therapy and don't enter into any surgical issues are not required to be registered," NSW Health minister Brad Hazzard said.
"The question is — is that a sufficient arrangement? Clearly there is a major problem with beauty therapy facilities that involve themselves in doing procedures that perhaps should not be done by them."
In Australia unqualified surgeons are entitled to call themselves “cosmetic surgeons” and perform procedures in clinics that aren’t subject to the same standards and regulations as hospitals.
It is a loophole the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons, the peak body for qualified plastic surgeons, has long wanted closed. It is loophole that is not widely known by patients and poses an unacceptable risk to their health.
“While we can’t comment on this specific case which is the subject of police charges, we can only reiterate that no cosmetic procedure is risk free,” Professor Mark Ashton, President of the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons said in a statement.
“This includes procedures such as lasers, fillers and anti-wrinkle treatments. We cannot emphasise enough the importance of people being aware of the risks and doing their research into the qualifications of their practitioner and facility where their procedure is being conducted.”
There is some risk inherent in every surgical procedure but it is amplified significantly when it is being performed by someone who is not properly qualified or being done in an environment that is not registered for surgery.
Jean Huang realised these risks in the worst scenario imaginable. Instead of simply having her breasts augmented, she died. It is impossible not to mourn the futility of a healthy young person dying in the pursuit of physical perfection.
Yet it is a pursuit many many more men and women are likely to pursue. According to new research commissioned by ASPA one in ten Australians have had plastic surgery over the past three years or is intending to do so within the next three years.
Safety and education must be prioritized: as these procedures grow in popularity it might be tempting to view them as being less risky on account of more people having them but that isn’t the case.
The proliferation of invasive beauty treatments in beauty salons is worrying according to the Australasian College of Cosmetic Surgery.
"In the unlikely event of an adverse reaction, you have to have medical-grade resuscitation equipment available immediately and that's not going to happen in a beauty salon," Dr Russell Knudsen said. "If they are being done in a non-medical setting like a beauty salon or a botox party that we hear about, that is completely unacceptable."
In recent years there have been at least five women in NSW who have suffered cardiac arrest or high-risk complications during cosmetic procedures and then been rushed to hospital as a result. Some of those women have spoken out about the fact weren’t aware of the risks associated with the procedures they opted to undergo.
ASPS’s Professor Ashton says there is plenty of misinformation out there and encourages anyone considering cosmetic surgery to do their research before committing.
If you are considering a cosmetic procedure consider these tips:
Always check your surgeon’s credentials and experience
Not all medical practitioners performing cosmetic surgery are plastic surgeons or even practitioners with formal surgery qualifications so check your surgeon’s qualifications.
Be prepared before your initial consultation
In an initial consultation you can advise of your goal and your surgeon should undertake a thorough examination and if surgery is appropriate, advise the best procedure to achieve your desired results.
Ask about the risks
In your consultation, have a list of questions to ask and ensure they are answered adequately. The risks need to be outlined so ask your surgeon about any potential complications during or after the surgery, about their safety record and their experience with the particular procedure you are considering.
Don’t rush into a procedure
Take your time in deciding whether surgery is what you want. Be realistic about whether it will deliver the desired outcome and weigh up the risks before committing.