A joint investigation by a Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and 60 Minutes has exposed the dark side of the cosmetic surgery industry. Photo / 60 Minutes/Channel 9
The dark side of Australia’s cosmetic surgery industry has been exposed as part of a major journalistic investigation.
A joint Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and 60 Minutes investigation, headed up by journalist Adele Ferguson, has seen botched victims speak out about their nightmare experiences.
Many of the patients revealed how they were initially drawn in by social-media star cosmetic surgeons before things started going wrong.
Social media is rife with surgeons with little cosmetic experience touting their supposedly fantastic results, backed up by endorsements from popular influencers.
But for all the happy clients, there are many others that have been left unhappy, disfigured, in pain and had their lives changed for the worse.
One such client is Keisha Amoah who underwent liposuction and a Brazilian butt lift (BBL) procedure at Cosmos Clinic in Hawthorn, Melbourne, in April 2021.
From the moment she woke up from surgery, the mum of three knew something wasn’t right.
She immediately started screaming for help, with her doctor allegedly giving her ketamine and the opioid fentanyl to try to calm her down, Nine reports.
She ended up calling an ambulance as she lay face down in the recovery room.
“Please help me, I can’t die, I’ve got three kids,” Amoah told the ambulance operator in a recorded message obtained by Nine.
“I’ve just had a procedure. There could be something seriously wrong. I really need to get to a hospital.”
It is claimed hospital records showed the 26-year-old had been bleeding internally for hours and had suffered multiple lacerations to her liver.
“I had never felt pain like that before in my life. I kept telling them from the beginning, ‘I am in pain, I need help, something is wrong’,” Amoah said during Thursday’s special 60 Minutes episode.
“It felt like somebody had stabbed me and I could feel this burning pain inside my abdomen and it just wouldn’t stop. It kept getting worse. It got to the point where I just kept passing out throughout the time I was in recovery because the pain was so bad.”
She claimed her surgeon told her she was not handling the pain well and it was “normal” and that she needed to “calm down”.
Amoah experienced pain for months afterwards before having revision surgery in December to fix the botched procedure.
Cosmos Clinic said its doctors underwent lengthy training, invested heavily in compliance and it had performed thousands of surgeries and had never had a fatality.
Patient safety was at the forefront of its operations, the clinic said.
Expert plastic surgeon, Professor Mark Ashton, claimed to Nine that the surgeon had basically started “lipo-sucking” the woman’s liver, which is what caused the lacerations on the organ.
“With Keisha, what happened was he went too deep because he was unaware as to where that cannula was positioned and he started lipo-sucking Keisha’s liver,” he said.
The doctor who performed the operation is a GP who moved into cosmetic surgery in October 2018.
Following the surgery, Amoah and her mother rang Cosmos’ head office in Sydney to report her experience.
“You’re only seeing the best of the best on their Instagram pages; you’re not seeing the women with scar tissue, botched surgeries that have to keep going back to get things fixed,” the 26-year-old warned.
Despite Amoah’s complaint, the doctor continued to operate out of the Melbourne clinic for the next eight months, with other patients also coming forward to complain in that time.
Shanade Mulelly claimed she was left with a uneven buttocks and shooting pains down her leg following a BBL and liposuction procedure.
When she complained to the head office, she was allegedly offered a small payment if she signed a nondisclosure agreement (NDA). She declined.
Another one of the doctor’s patients, Taylor S, told Nine she was left with an egg-shaped rock in her right buttock following a fat transfer and BBL.
“I knew there were risks involved but I didn’t know there was a potential for lifelong pain or even a hard rock to be in my cheek,” she said.
In a statement to Nine, the doctor said he was “unable to comment on any specific patient’s circumstances” due to confidentiality agreements.
“I have also signed documents which prohibit me from commenting further. At all times I have acted diligently, professionally and sought to achieve the best results for my patients,” he said.
“I appreciate and respect the role of the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency [AHPRA]. I will provide any assistance necessary in order for AHPRA to carry out its functions.”
Appearing on 60 Minutes, Professor Ashton revealed it is incredibly easy for anyone with a basic medical degree to do a course, which can take as little as 15 hours, and be able to call themselves a cosmetic surgeon.
“This is not what we demand of people performing surgery in Australia.”
In a statement to Nine, founder of Cosmos Clinics, Dr Joseph Ajaka, said Cosmos has performed more than 25,000 liposuction procedures and more than 4000 BBLs with “no fatalities”.
“That is because patient safety informs everything that we do,” he said.
“There is no other cosmetic surgery provider in Australia that invests more in compliance and ongoing accreditation of its licensed day hospitals than Cosmos.”
Ajaka said Cosmos’ doctors are trained for six months in best practice BBL techniques and must be exposed to more than 500 cases before they are permitted to perform the procedure.
“We are aware of the conditions that were placed on [the doctor’s] registration after he ceased to be employed by Cosmos.”
He added: “Like all surgical procedures, liposuction and fat-transfer procedures carry inherent risks. We are upfront with patients about those risks and ensure that they understand them before proceeding.
“We also offer our patients the opportunity to participate in a further complementary consultation with a different doctor to discuss risk and any other concerns they may have.”
In the lead-up to this investigation by Nine being published, Ajaka launched action in the NSW Supreme Court to obtain a copy of the investigation.
On Wednesday, lawyers for the Double Bay cosmetic surgeon launched another application for preliminary discovery, but that bid was quashed on Thursday.
“We’re very pleased with this afternoon’s judgment in the Supreme Court dismissing this unorthodox and concerning attempt to curb press freedom,” said Tory Maguire, executive editor of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
“Adele’s story is important public interest journalism and Australians deserve to know the findings of her investigation. We look forward to publishing the story in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, and broadcasting it on a special episode of 60 Minutes.”