BARELY able to speak and rushed to her surgeon in a wheelchair by her terrified mum, Menna El Sayied cried in fear: “It’s going to kill me.”
By the next evening – just over a week since she had an alleged five stone of fat removed through liposuction – the 19-year-old was dead.
As more nations offer sun, sea and cosmetic surgery at knockdown prices in the battle for ‘beauty tourism’, a BBC News investigation believes it has found evidence that laws are being sidestepped and dangerous liposuction ops are costing lives.
It comes after the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons recently revealed a 44 per cent rise in botched cosmetic surgery cases carried out abroad – with even qualified doctors escaping prosecution for fatal errors.
Menna’s mother, Amal Ahmed, tells the show in tragic detail how her daughter found a plastic surgeon online in a desperate bid to receive liposuction.
“I told him she’s the only daughter I have,” she explains. “He told me it was an easy surgery.”
Dark side of beauty tourism boom
Just last year, the Egyptian Health Ministry launched a campaign, “We Take Care of You”, to increase medical tourism in the country.
But despite its efforts to market itself as a healthcare destination, worrying claims are being made about its fledging beauty industry.
At 16 stone, law student Menna, from Egypt, was unhappy with her weight and wanted a quick fix.
She wanted liposuction, but doctors warned her this was for body contouring only.
Her best friend Shereen Ashraf told the BBC documentary Beauty’s Ugly Truth: “Doctors told her ‘you just need to diet. This operation is not for you’.
“She found out about the surgery through the internet – those that offer curvy bodies, ones who do liposuction or gastric bypasses.
“She would ask me ‘Am I really fat? Am I not pretty?’ Even though she was beautiful. She meant the world to me.”
Menna eventually found a doctor online, Dr Mina Gerges, who would do the procedure.
Mum Amal told how she grilled the plastic surgeon on safety.
She said: “While searching online she found this Dr Mina. We went to visit him at his clinic.
“He told me it was an easy surgery and that she could call me from her phone during the procedure.”
Dodgy doc removed 5st of fat
After the procedure Amal claims Dr Gerges told the family he removed 34kg to 36kg of fat – just over five stone.
There is no legal limit to the amount of fat which can be removed during liposuction in Egypt.
The British Association of Plastic Surgeons guidelines state a maximum of half a stone – or three litres – can be safely drained in the procedure.
Eight days after her operation Menna went for a check up with Dr Gerges with her mother and aunt.
The student could barely speak and was in a wheelchair but Dr Gerges refused to examine her, according to her aunt.
Amal said: “He took us into a room and she was saying ‘there’s something hard here, and it’s killing me, it’s going to kill me’.
“He said ‘it’s because of the stitches – she’s being spoiled.”
That evening Menna’s family found her unconscious in her bed and rushed her to hospital.
She said: “The doctor took us aside and said ‘Menna is going to die’.
“He said ‘she is not going to make it. I will give her shots that dissolve clots until she passes.’”
Menna died the following day from a blood clot on her stomach and lungs – eight days after her operation.
While Menna lay dying, Dr Gerges posted a video to YouTube where he said he was a member of both European and American societies of plastic surgeons.
But BBC investigators found no evidence of him being involved with any other surgery association than the Egyptian Medical Syndicate.
When undercover reporters approached Dr Gerges for a consultation, he told them he could remove 17kg – just under three stone of fat.
He said: “That’s how much I’ll remove during the operation.
“You’ll put your hand on your stomach and it will be completely flat.”
He added: “There will be side effects if the doctor operates on you without asking for tests or if the doctor is inexperienced.
“There’s always a solution for any side effects.
“You’ll be awake and we’ll use local anaesthetic. Some people talk on their mobile phones.
“You’ll leave the hospital on the same day.”
‘If we’d known risks, we wouldn’t have let her sign up’
The family buried Menna within 24 hours of her death – meaning no autopsy took place.
Her cause of death was listed as an embolism after liposuction, and no criminal charges have been brought.
Dr Gerges told the Doctors’ Syndicate that Menna and her family understood the potential complications. He also told the body that he removed six to seven kilograms of fat from Menna’s body.
Dr Gerges claims he prescribed anti-clotting medicine and advised exercise that Menna did not take up.
He told the BBC that he did not make an error in the treatment of Menna.
He added that he cannot comment further on her case due to patient confidentiality.
Amal said: “Do you think it’s possible if he’d told us that it could cause a blood clot in her stomach and one on her lungs that we’d still sign a consent form?”
When the BBC asked the Egyptian Doctor’s Syndicate on progress of the complaint against Dr Mina Gerges, the body’s committee’s head of ethics Dr Gamal Omera said he was still being investigated.
He said: “Although the prosecution has dropped the case, the investigation isn’t over for the doctor.
“The Syndicate’s investigation is independent of the prosecution’s investigation.
“I will hold him accountable based on his operation technique and the papers provided by the hospitals [Menna visited].
“We can compare that to the doctor’s statement as well as that of the patient’s family.
“I wish that there were laws to allow the Syndicate to conduct their own searches [of clinics] and the power to arrest doctors working illegally.
“The parliament has the power to implement these laws.”
‘It’s really important they think you’re doctors’
On the surface it seems Egypt has higher medical standards than Britain – where filler is unregulated.
To legally carry out botox or filler in the country you must be a dermatologist or plastic surgeon – overseen by the Egyptian Medical Syndicate.
But penalties for breaking the law vary wildly – from sentences of up to two years behind bars or as little as £9.50.
And undercover reporters discovered centres which are offering certificates to non-doctors with zero medical experience.
As real patients come in to act as models for botox classes, manager Ashraf Gad tells the undercover reporters: “It’s really important they think you are doctors.”
The doctor training the two women tells them it is impossible to die from filler – when in reality hitting a vein or an allergic reaction can happen.
Dr Mohamed Madany tells them: “Ninety-nine per cent of non-doctors who work in the field either have problems or bad results.
“We will learn to do things that won’t result in you going to prison.
“After a while you will be experienced enough that you can inject just like a doctor.”
Dr Madany and Ashraf Gad did not respond to the BBC’s request for comment.
BBC News investigation Beauty’s Ugly Truth on iPlayer from today.