Latin America: Victims of Faulty Breast Implants Take to the Internet

[All links lead to Spanish language pages except when otherwise noted]

The problems arising from the defective PIP breast implants have led to a profound crisis within the realm of public health, calling into question the values surrounding and resources apportioned to breast augmentation in Latin America. The first warning bells sounded in the beginning of 2010 with the discovery of numerous cases of cancer linked by the common denominator of breast implants.

As the months passed, the concern has been growing, so much so that many woman have come together on social media websites to air their opinions and share information as well as to organize legal action.

Examination of a silicone breast implant. Photo by Wideweb Videographer, copyright Demotix.

Examination of a silicone breast implant. Photo by Wideweb Videographer, copyright Demotix.

Cases throughout the continent are many. Nevertheless, we will mention a handful of these cases, women who have been moved to speak out the loudest throughout the Hispanic Web 2.0. There are still many unanswered questions: Who should pay? What will happen after the implants are removed? How high is the risk? What is the opinion of the victims? And also: What does it say about Latin America, this extensive demand for aesthetic surgeries in general, and for breast augmentation in particular?

In Colombia, cases abound, and many woman have organized in groups on Facebook. Two examples of these groups are Those affected by PIP breast implants Colombia and Woman affected by breast implants in Colombia, which also has published a blog, on which some have called into question the accountability of public health institutions:

 Las prótesis PIP se vendieron en Colombia durante once años legalmente, a pesar de que la autoridad colombiana nunca tuvo documentos que probaran que sus componentes podrían ser utilizados en seres humanos…

The PIP implants were sold legally in Colombia over the course of 11 years, even though the Colombian authorities never had documents proving that their components could be used in human beings…

Others have created blogs to tell their stories, such as the blog No to the Biopolymers. These groups and blogs gather testimonies, questions and references about the implants, their care and their removal. Also, those who participate can look for information to determine what legal actions are available as well as discuss the possibilities of replacing the implants.

In Chile, other victims have shared their experiences, including Daniela Campos, who used her YouTube channel to expand upon warnings as well as call for the participation of public institutions in the investigation of the situation and the punishment of those responsible. Daniela asked her subscribers to echo these demands on social networking sites, and she created a Facebook group to demand that those responsible be subject to the Law when it comes to the processes that will be necessary to remove the implants.

However, Hernán Corral pointed out the legal problems with this on his blog Derecho y Academia:

¿Podrían invocar las mujeres chilenas afectadas un régimen como éste? Lamentablemente, nuestro ordenamiento jurídico no ha recepcionado aún este tipo de responsabilidad sin culpa. (…) Las afectadas chilenas, invocando el registro del Instituto de Salud Pública como producto médico (y por tanto eventualmente peligroso), podrían demandar al fabricante. Pero si Poly Implants Prothéses no tiene representantes en Chile, les será muy difícil emplazar a la compañía.

Could the affected Chilean woman invoke a schema [of product liability] such as this? Unfortunately, our legal system has not yet adopted this type of responsibility without fault. (…) The affected Chileans, invoking the registry of the Institute of Public Health as a medical product (and therefore possibly dangerous), could sue the manufacturer. But if Poly Implants Prostheses doesn't have any representatives in Chile, it will be very difficult for them to subpoena the company.

From Miami, Sofía Jiménez opened a blog to recount her experience with the PIP breast implants. It details numerous facts about intervention before and after as well as information on how to determine if the implants have ruptured:

El hecho de estar tan cerca de testimonios de mujeres sufriendo de todo tipo de síntomas y complicaciones me hizo abrir un poco más los ojos. Y me pregunte a mi misma, ¿son los implantes tan seguros como nos quieren hacer pensar?

Being so close to the stories of woman suffering from all kinds of symptoms and complications has made me open my eyes a little more. And I wonder, are implants as safe as we want to make ourselves believe?

But what is behind the great number of breast augmentation surgeries being performed in Latin America? Two bloggers reflected on this from Venezuela. Naky shared the testimonies of various woman who work next to her office on the blog ProDavinci:

[Una de ellas] Aún debe la mayor parte del crédito bancario con el que financió sus cirugías (…) tiene 24 años (…) gana poco más de salario mínimo y tiene prótesis PIP de 400 cc. Le da gracias a Dios de haber tenido el dinero para pagar todo eso (…) “No todas llegamos al Miss Venezuela, pero hay que hacerle creer al resto que sí.”

[Y otra más opina:] “La estatura que te dan los tacones es nada frente a la manera que te crece el ánimo cuando un tipo se te queda viendo como si quisiera arrancarte la blusa”

De las nueve en conversa, sólo una sabe el tipo de prótesis que tiene, conserva el certificado y pudo hablar con su cirujano, que le garantizó que todo está bien. El resto hizo algunas llamadas, pero se encuentran en el estadio de la negación. Ninguna está dispuesta a operarse de nuevo (…) Les resulta impertinente pensar que deban renunciar a su sinuosidad sin nada que les compense la ausencia. Karla llegó a sugerir que el mismísimo gobierno debiera pagar las nuevas prótesis y reconocer mediante un permiso especial, la ausencia laboral de las afectadas por tal circunstancia (…)

[One woman] She still owes the majority of the bank credit with which she financed her surgeries (…) she is 24 years old (…) she earns only a little more than minimum wage and has 400 cc. PIP implants. She thanks God for having had the money to pay for all of this (…) “Not all of us will make it to Miss Venezuela, but it makes the rest of us believe that yes, we could.”

[The other woman] “The stature that wearing high heels gives you is nothing compared to the way it validates you when a guy stares at you as if he wants to rip off your blouse.”

Of the nine woman interviewed, only one knows the type of implant that she has, saved the certificate and was able to talk with her surgeon, who guaranteed her that everything was all right. The rest have made some calls, but have been rebuffed. None of them are ready to be operated on again (…)  They find it is impertinent to think that they should remove their curves without anything to compensate for their absence. Karla suggested that the very government should pay for new implants and issue special permission to the affected woman to miss work for this (…)

Finally, in Aporrea, Antonio Rangel questioned the social undertone of aesthetic change, and why it is so popular:

Es imposible negar que algunas mujeres, víctimas de la poderosa alienación o enajenación mental que las ha hecho creer que ser más sexy o atractiva las conduce directamente al éxito social y económico, convertidas de la noche para la mañana en señuelos sexuales irresistibles, serán dotadas del poder de seleccionar entre la manada de turulatos seguidores a quien ellas consideren que es el mejor “partido” (…) Les resulta impensable que (…) los reinados de belleza, los desfiles de moda, los cosméticos mágicos, son las mismas que se lucran con las prótesis…

It is impossible to deny that some woman, victims of powerful alienation or insanity that has led them to believe that to be sexier or more attractive directly correlates with social and economic success, changed overnight into irresistible, sexual bait, will be endowed with the power of selecting from among their flock of dazed followers who they consider the best “catch” (…) They find it unthinkable that the same companies that finance the beauty pageants, the fashion shows, the magic cosmetics, are the same that profit from the prosthetics…

Many more questions and discussions will continue to fill up space on the web. Hundreds of thousands of woman still wonder about the details surrounding the surgeries and their subsequent treatments. The effects of aesthetic surgeries and their compulsive use within the medical world have been at the center of many debates. Though the legal battles have hardly begun, ideas are blowing in the wind that challenge social restraints on women's aesthetic vision and how women answer these types of demands placed on them.


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