Black Market Injections: Dr. John Martin Reveals What Really Happens When You Use Illegal Fillers
Jager Weatherby on 10 Sep 2014 at 4:00pm
There are numerous benefits to getting a cosmetic procedure, most importantly improving your self-confidence. But before you ever step foot inside an operating room, it’s imperative that you’ve done your research (both on the procedure and the doctor) and know that your surgeon has board certification.
MORE: Board-Certification: How to Know If Your Surgeon Is Legitimately Certified
While not everyone who’s skipped these steps has had disastrous results, that wasn’t the case for a transgender woman named Rajee Narinesingh. The 46-year-old Miami resident was a victim of Oneal Ron Morris, an unlicensed “doctor” who specialized in black market injections using tire inflator and cement.
“As a transgender woman, I felt the need to feminize myself beyond just using hormones,” Rajee recently revealed to RealSelf. “Everything seemed very routine after my sessions; however, one year later I woke up with an enormous boil-like mass on the side of my face that was extremely painful. It continued to grow throughout the day, becoming increasingly more painful. I developed rock-hard nodules the size of golf-balls on my face around the injection sites. That is when I knew I had done detrimental damage to myself.”
Since paying $3,000 for the illegal procedures in 2005, Rajee ( who nicknamed herself “Cement Woman”) has been slowly getting the fillers removed from her cheeks, lips, breasts, and butt. She sought out RealSelf Top Doctor, Florida plastic surgeon Dr. John J. Martin, who has spent the last seven years diligently working to reduce the size of the nodules in her face. “I will never be 100% recovered, but he has made a significant improvement for me physically, mentally, and emotionally,” she says. “It’s a work in progress and I get better with every treatment.”
RealSelf caught up with Dr. Martin to get the full story on these illegal fillers, including what really happens to your body when you use them, the process it takes to remove them, and the possible life-threatening results.
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RealSelf: Is Miami the hotspot for illegal injections?
Dr. John Martin: Miami is filled with beautiful, wealthy people and because of that there is constant competition in our culture to appear younger and more attractive because they believe they will be more desirable. The appeal of something illegal or “discounted” is directly correlated to people wanting rejuvenation but not wanting to spend much money. Additionally, the majority of these “doctors” come from Central and South America and they tell patients they are licensed physicians and are using substance that has only been approved in their country, but might not be legal yet in the US. Once the patient receives the injections the doctors disappear and fall off the radar so the patient has no recourse and no one to help them with the repercussions.
RS: Rajee had concrete-like material injected into her face, which gives a pretty explicit visual to our readers. Is it actually concrete or what other types of materials are commonly used?
JM: We usually don’t know exactly what is injected. Often it’s a combination of mineral oil and commercial-grade silicone. It’s not actually cement, but can harden and have the consistency of cement.
RS: This has got to present some major health risks. What exactly happens inside the body when using illegal injections?
JM: It creates chronic inflammation, which could just lead to some mild redness and large nodules (solid, raised bumps under the skin). However, it can also migrate to other areas and cause infection with sepsis (whole-body inflammation), pulmonary embolus, and death. It may also cause an auto-immune reaction down the road.
RS: How long does it typically take to start seeing complications from illegals injections?
JM: Some complications can be seen right away, such as pulmonary embolus. Other side effects, like nodules and infection, can occur any time from about 1 month to 20 years later.
RS: Are there other fillers you’ve heard of that consumers should be aware of?
JM:There are many products on the market that consumers should be aware of. These include hydrogel (absorbent gel commonly used in disposable diapers, contact lenses, and water gel explosives), Bio-Alcamid (a filler designed to stimulate collagen growth that may or may not contain a dangerous neurotoxin), and bio-polymers (a plant-based material often used to make degradable plastics).
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RS: Is it possible to completely remove illegal fillers? How complicated is this?
JM: It is almost impossible to take the patients back to their pre-injection appearance, but treatment can significantly help, especially in regards to their health. Surgery is an option to cut out solitary nodules, using ultrasound therapy to help break them up. However, it is extremely tricky because the “filler” is embedded in the many internal layers of the body — muscle, fat, tissue, fibers. The process of removing the product requires removing all the inflammatory tissue, which leaves a large defect which then needs to be reconstructed.
RS: What about the injections in the rest of her body?
JM: Because she also had injections in her breasts, we may have to do a mastectomy at some point, otherwise there’s no way to get all of it out.
RS: Who are these illegal practitioners?
JM: Specifically with Rajee it was “The Duchess,” who has performed over 20 of these life-threatening mega procedures. Often the injections are done by people from another country. They come here and set up shop in a hotel room and tell patients that they are registered physicians. Many times they have the patient lie on a dresser or on the floor. They inject them with the illegal substance and then leave, never to be heard from again. It is also pretty common in spas around town where a non-medical professional injects illegal substances.
RS: How did you end up specializing in fixing the damage that illegal fillers has caused?
JM: I worked with Rajee and was connected with her through the YES Institute, an educational organization for gender and orientation. She generated a lot of press and media attention quite quickly, so other victims saw her story and my treatment in the press and were compelled to call in.
RS: How rewarding is this kind of work?
JM: Patients are always happy with any improvement, so it’s great to help in whatever way we can. Seeing their progress and how they are able to turn their lives around from being ashamed and almost hermit-like because of the deformities the fillers caused, to being able to look someone in the face and hold a conversation is extremely rewarding. It’s like giving someone their life back.
View more RealSelf Injectable Fillers videos
About Dr. John J. Martin
Dr. John J. Martin is a RealSelf Top Doctor and facial plastic surgeon based in Coral Gables, Florida. Learn more on his RealSelf profile.
All photos courtesy of Vine Communications, Inc.