Some Connecticut women are going to extreme lengths to be "beautiful" without the full cost. They’re getting cosmetic procedures in hotel rooms, and even traveling out of the country to save money. It's a risk that can cause major health problems.
The quest for the perfect body is a long one for some.
A woman named Samantha told Troubleshooters she has had a dozen plastic surgeries and procedures to become the woman she is today. However, she didn’t always look the way she does now.
She was born male.
"Yeah. Oh yeah. Very happy, but it took me all years, a lot of money," said Samantha. "A lot of surgeries. Good and bad."
Although she doesn’t do it often, Samantha showed us the body she left behind.
Looking at her pre-surgery pictures, one might say she could have been a male model.
"I was going for that, but I was really feminine," Samantha recalled.
Her journey started when she traveled from Connecticut to Colombia when she was just 18 years old. That's where she got her breasts and a new nose. Next, it was onto Mexico to get injections to plump up her buttocks.
"It was silicone," said Samantha. "I was young. I didn’t have the methods and the money for the right way."
The injections were done at a hotel she says doubled as clinic.
"You just pay for a package and you just spend and stay there for a whole week until you are all ready to fly back," Samantha explained.
At this resort, she said she put her life and her health in the hands of people whose credentials she hadn’t verified, including a woman called a silicone nurse. If something went terribly wrong, the hotel room wasn’t equipped to treat her.
She said she was never seen by a doctor. But the woman who performed the injections worked for cheap.
"It’s always about saving money," said Samantha.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 750,000 Americans travel abroad each year in search of cheaper medical care. It’s a risk that can save them thousands of dollars.
"For implants, it's $8,000," said Samantha, referring to U.S. charges. "But out of country, it could be $3,000."
In 2013, the CDC issued a warning about "medical tourism," saying doctors may reuse needles, and do other unsafe things that could lead to HIV, Hepatitis and other diseases.
Samantha took another big risk, right here in Connecticut.
"It’s called silicone parties," she explained. "And then they rent a hotel room and then all the girls get together and get pumped."
The injections can be dangerous and are illegal when someone isn’t licensed to give them. And there is always the question of, "What are you really being pumped with?"
The woman who pumped a chemical, presumed to be silicone, into Samanta's body wasn't a doctor or even a medical professional.
Although she doesn’t appear to have any issues as a result of that procedure, she saw the potential consequences firsthand when a "silicone party" did not end well for a friend.
Samantha said three months after her friend was injected with a chemical to make her buttocks bigger, she was rushed to the hospital to have the implants taken out after they became infected.
She said that was the wake-up call she needed to stop her from going to hotels for cosmetic procedures.
"Never again," said Samantha. "Never again."
Yet the horror stories only deter some.
We met with a New Haven woman we’ll call Anna, who also traveled out of the United States seeking a more beautiful body.
"All I knew was that I was going to go in there and I was going to come out looking like a model," said Anna.
Her extreme desire to be beautiful took her to the Dominican Republic for cosmetic surgery on her breasts, buttocks and stomach.
She said she was just one of many there, for the same reason.
"They take the girls in and out in and out as much as they can," said Anna. "They are all getting plastic surgery."
But when Anna left the Dominican Republic, she was on her own after surgery. There was nowhere to get aftercare back in the U.S. and she soon developed a staph infection. She said she had to spend a month at Yale-New Haven Hospital.
"I mean, they knew I had an infection in my breast, but I was so sick that they didn’t know if the infection had traveled somewhere else in the body," said Anna. "They were trying to figure out why my stomach got so swollen."
Dr. Jonathan Schreiber, a plastic surgeon in West Hartford, said people like Anna are the reason he doesn’t recommend medical tourism.
"There are complications that can occur," warned Schreiber. "And if you are in another country and a complication occurs, you don’t know the supporting system that can evaluate and treat those complications."
Several plastic surgeon offices we spoke with in Connecticut said they wouldn’t perform corrective surgery to fix what another doctor or person has done to someone’s body, because it’s too risky. Many people have to live with the issues that may come from having a lower-rate cosmetic procedures.
You might save a few bucks getting surgery outside of the U.S., but it could cost you a lot more than you more than you ever expected.
"They go in there thinking, 'I am going to look beautiful,'" said Anna. "And before you know it, they are coming out in a coffin."