DALLAS – The recent death of a Dallas woman who had received injections at a salon to expand the size of her buttocks follows other cosmetic-related deaths in Texas and around the country that authorities say were caused by people who either weren't licensed or who injected substances not approved by federal regulators.
The family of Wykesha Reid, 34, says she died after visiting the salon on Feb. 18, her fourth time for a cosmetic procedure. What happened in the hours after the final injection remains unclear, but police responding to a 911 call found her body the next morning at the business. Dallas police have charged two salon workers for not being licensed for the injection procedure.
"Everybody else got big booties," Reid's mother, Patricia Kelley, told The Dallas Morning News. "So she wanted a big booty."
Liquid silicone is not approved for many uses by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so doctors often won't perform buttocks injections. Other legal procedures can be pricey, so those seeking to modify their bodies often seek out cheaper ways to obtain a desired shape. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says tallies are not kept on complaints stemming from black-market injections, deaths from the procedures have been reported in recent years in California, Georgia, Florida, Pennsylvania, New York and elsewhere.
A notorious case in Philadelphia ended earlier this month with the murder conviction of a madam-turned-faux cosmetic surgeon. Prosecutors in the case said strippers, transgender women and "regular girls" who sought injections at "pumping parties" and airport hotels were young and vulnerable. And in December, a South Texas woman was sentenced to three years in prison for the death of a customer injected with liquid silicone at the woman's spa. Prosecutors say Elva Navarro admitted she didn't tell the victim that similar injections had caused health complications for other customers.
"It is not often that someone comes forward to file a complaint with the Medical Board after undergoing those procedures," Texas Medical Board spokesman Jarrett Schneider said. "When someone is engaging in the unlicensed practice of medicine we can issue a cease-and-desist order against them if we have enough information and evidence. However, it is ultimately a criminal matter before law enforcement."
Dallas police Lt. Thomas Castro said Reid's death is being investigated as an unexplained death, and investigators are awaiting toxicology results from a medical examiner. He declined to comment on the substance that was allegedly injected, and said that investigators are searching for the two workers who treated her as well as at least one other person who also may have received illegal cosmetic work at the spa.
"This was new to us in Dallas. We don't know how long this stuff has been going on," Castro said.
Women who were customers of the Dallas salon where Reid was found dead told the newspaper they received hydrogel injections that were sealed with Super Glue. Doses were sold for $300 or $500.
Doctors performed more than 3,700 legal buttock lifts and implants in 2012, generating more than $17 million, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. The average fee for a legal buttocks implant is $4,670, the organization said. So customers often find cheaper rates offered by unlicensed practitioners who tout — sometimes falsely — the safety of their work.
Federal prosecutors say Navarro provided "liquid silicone to women to effect (sic) the structure and function of their bodies" to at least 30 women. The Hidalgo resident falsely told them she was trained and certified to provide the injections, authorities said. In addition to the customer who died in October 2013, another client became sick and was hospitalized in 2012.
"My client is not the only one accused of doing this in South Texas," Terry Canales, Navarro's attorney, said last summer when his client entered a guilty plea. Canales did not return a phone message Monday asking him to elaborate.
A message left with Reid's daughter, Keaira Reid, was not returned, but she told the Morning News that it's the apparent lack of care for her mom that troubles her the most.
"I'm very mad because anybody could have called 911," she said.