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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

You wouldn't think she needed surgery: Death from breast augmentation surgery

Stephanie Kuleba had a charmed life: captain of the varsity cheerleading squad at West Boca High School in Florida, a near-perfect grade-point average, Barbie-doll looks and a ticket to the University of Florida, where she hoped to start her journey toward becoming a medical doctor.

Her friends said she was "perfect," so when Stephanie died Saturday of complications from breast augmentation surgery, none of them could understand how the girl whose success in life "was a sure thing" could perish in such a strange and devastating fashion.

"She was a role model for a lot of people," said friend and classmate Vicky Goldring, 16. "She was incredibly smart. She wanted to help people. She was just a happy 18-year-old girl."

While no official cause of death was released by authorities or Stepanie's family, many of her friends said she suffered a severe reaction to anesthesia given to her during a breast augmentation procedure Friday night.

Paramedics were called to an outpatient surgery center in Boca Raton, Florida, and rushed her to a nearby hospital, where she died Saturday.

With her long blonde hair and shy smile, Stephanie charmed people from an early age, friends said. A talented athlete, her path toward cheerleading began with competitive gymnastics. At 11, she had placed first all-around at a gymnastic invitational event in Tampa, competing in bars, beam, floor and vault events.

She had brains to match her beauty, friends said, earning a GPA above 4.0, acing advanced placement courses and earning an acceptance letter from the University of Florida, where she planned to head after graduation, imagining a career as a doctor.
"If you knew her, you wouldn't think she needed that [surgery]," said a friend. "She's perfect."

In recent years, doctors have been performing an increasing number of procedures such as breast implants, liposuction and tummy tucks on young women and even girls as young as 14.

The enormous popularity of reality TV shows like Extreme Makeover have fueled the desire of adolescent girls to alter their bodies permanently, and they are finding more surgeons willing to oblige them. Breast implants and liposuction are now bestowed by parents as graduation or birthday gifts. Some doctors say they have performed breast augmentations on Baby Boomer mothers and their teenage daughters. From 2002 to 2003, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, the number of girls 18 and younger who got breast implants nearly tripled, from 3,872 to 11,326.
Among all age groups, cosmetic implants have skyrocketed in popularity, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Last year, according to the ASPS, about 247,000 women got implants for augmentation, compared with 32,000 in 1992.

Anesthesia is a way to control pain using medication. In rare cases, an allergic reaction to local or general anesthetic can create health risks or even cause death.

Advice to people thinking of surgery at outpatient centers: Ask who’ll give the anesthesia.

Read another breast augmentation story.

Thanks to Kevin Deutsch for the source story in the March 24 issue of the Palm Beach Post.

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