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I had fillers so I would look like Martine McCutcheon.. it ruined my life and nearly killed me; AS A REPORT CALLS FOR NEW LAWS TO OVERHAUL THE COSMETIC SURGERY INDUSTRY, JO SANDFORD IS ONE OF THE THOUSANDS OF WOMEN RISKING THEIR LOOKS AND LIVES USING FILLERS. BY KAY GODDARD.

Byline: KAY GODDARD

Looking at pictures of celebrities in magazines, Jo Sandford's eyes would always linger on actress Martine McCutcheon's high cheekbones.

The housewife had always felt her cheeks weren't full enough and as she entered her 30s, and with the odd wrinkle starting to appear, cosmetic surgery seemed to hold the answer.

She decided to have dermafiller injections to look like the former EastEnders actress and it was a decision that she would live to regret.

Last year, Jo, 35, from London, developed a life-threatening infection when the filler shattered under the skin, leaving her hospitalised and disfigured.

"I wanted the same heartshaped face as Martine. I thought it would give me confidence but in the end it nearly destroyed my life.

"Four years ago, I went to a London clinic first asking for permanent filler as I thought it would be cheaper than having regular, expensive top-ups, but they refused, saying they disliked permafillers and advised me against having them "But stupidly I didn't listen. I knew that I would find a doctor who would be willing to do them and I did," she says.

Jo paid PS500 to have three phials of a permanent filler she later found out was called Bio-Alcamid, which has since been withdrawn from the market, injected into her cheeks. It took 30 minutes and was administered by a private surgeon.

"I didn't go to a dodgy clinic and I'd thoroughly researched the subject. And I loved the way I looked with my prominent cheekbones. Then, out of the blue last year, I developed a problem with one of my cheeks. It felt painful and was so swollen my eye had practically closed.

"I became hot and sweaty, my face was burning and I was feverish so my husband Malcolm took me to our local A&E. They said I had developed an infection in my right cheek and I was admitted into hospital and put on an IV drip.

"After three days I began to feel better and was discharged. But a week later, I started feeling ill again. I couldn't open my eye and my cheek was hot to touch. I could see the look of horror on Malcolm's face so he rushed me back to the hospital.

"I immediately had a scan, which showed not only had the filler become infected again it had also migrated and shattered in both cheeks."

Jo had emergency surgery and a surgeon removed some but not all of the fragments of filler through aspiration.

"It was terrifying and I thought I was going to die - they said the infection was travelling towards the brain. But the hospital would only remove the filler in one cheek as that was life-threatening. They referred me back to my original surgeon to correct the other cheek.

"When I was discharged I went back to the private clinic and they removed the rest of it. But it left me with huge dents in my cheeks and sagging skin.

"It also left me with a huge revision bill. So far I've spent around PS4,000 having fat transferred to fill out the holes. It's a long, slow process. Corrective surgery will take two years." She adds: "A filler that took less than 30 minutes to insert nearly cost me my life."

Seduced by the prospect of a relatively inexpensive solution to ageing, Jo is just one of 100,000 women a year who undergo injectables like Botox and fillers to plump up sagging faces and bodies, which up to now has been largely unregulated. Many like Jo are influenced by celebs and TV shows like TOWIE.

But a major crackdown on the cosmetic surgery industry, worth PS2.3bn, has been called for and according to a review by Britain's most senior doctor Sir Bruce Keogh, the health services medical director, the industry is one that's been trivialised and needs tighter control.

Commissioned in the wake of the PIP breast implant scandal, the report recommends tighter control on those who can carry out procedures like Botox and other fillers and warns that having a filler gives no more protection than buying a pen or a toothbrush.

Currently, almost anyone can carry out this procedure from beauty therapists, hairdressers to non-medical staff and it is the lack of regulation in this area that Sir Bruce wants to clamp down on. He says: "Patients are being exposed to unreasonable risks and damage due to a lack of training."

The new law, which could be introduced by next year, proposes that anyone carrying out injectables would either need a qualification and registration to perform the procedures and dermal fillers should only be available by prescription only. Firms would be supervised by an ombudsman and covered by insurance in order to minimise the dangers.

There's no doubt that dermal fillers can have clear benefits and are popular. Along with Botox they command a market in non-surgical cosmetic procedures worth PS775million, which is expected to grow by 8.4% in the next year.

Dr Aamer Khan runs the reputable Harley Street Skin Clinic in London but admits not every clinic has high standards. "Currently, in the UK you can call yourself an aesthetic practitioner and start injecting faces without any medical knowledge," he says.

"You can even buy fillers and syringes online and don't even have to use approved products. The anatomy of the human face is unique for each person, and it takes a good doctor or surgeon to administer the injectable into the right locations. The wrong place or the wrong filler could lead to a lifetime of disfigurement or even fatal results.

"When patients come to me I always tell them what can go wrong. I've lost count of the number of new patients who have come to our clinic and not known what product has been injected into their faces.

"Others have opted for permanent fillers, like Jo, thinking it will save money but it has cost them dearly. But as the name suggests, once injected, they remain in the body and can be difficult to remove.

"They can be a ticking timebomb in the body and react years after you've had them. In the wrong hands, patients can be left with unsightly lumps and if a patient has a bad reaction the problems can include facial necrosis, disfigurement, nerve damage and anaphylactic shock. The problem with permanent filler is you are introducing an alien substance into the body, which is why I would never use it."

Currently, the UK treats fillers as harmless, and as a medical 'device' that receives a CE mark for approval. In fact Europe has well over 100 injectable fillers with a CE mark, yet in America only the FDA, which regulates food and drugs, has cleared six as they treat them with the same respect as full medicines.

Bio-Alcamid, the permanent filler which was injected into Jo's face, is no longer made. It was launched in 2003 and used in cosmetic surgery within the NHS and clinics mainly to treat HIV patients with hollow faces.

But it is not the only product that has slipped through the safety net.

Adds Dr Khan: "It's too easy for a product to come to market without any long-term testing and results. To get a CE mark you can test your product on just 10 to 20 people and only have to follow them for around six months. I think fillers must be treated as medicines and only administered by doctors.

"The review only scratches the surface as the industry needs regulating. I don't this review goes far enough. Just having a qualification doesn't necessarily mean the patient is safe.

"I think that injecting any substance should only be carried out by trained medical doctors. A far-reaching overhaul of this industry would create changes at a Europe-wide level. These plans are only one step in a journey that is long overdue. We now want to see these guidelines implemented as soon as possible."

HOW TO MAKE SURE YOUR FILLER JAB IS SAFE

Dr Aamer Khan runs Harley Street Skin Clinic in London and has this advice:

Always visit a reputable trained aesthetic medical practitioner experienced in facial injectable treatments.

The safety of the material used is very important. There are over 100 types of dermal fillers and not all have demonstrated predictable long-term results with a reliable safety profile, so do ensure you are being treated with a scientifically-approved product. Ask what type of filler will be used and whether there have been complications.

There are two main types of dermal filler available: permanent and nonpermanent. Never ever have a permanent synthetic filler, such as silicone, because if you have an allergic reaction it is almost impossible to remove.

The only permanent solution that I would consider is fat transfer, which uses your own fat.

The most commonly used facial fillers are hyaluronic acid (HA) based fillers (eg Juvederm, Restylane or Radiesse ranges). HA is a substance produced naturally in the body that hydrates and adds volume to skin - ask your doctor to show you the product prior to injection.

If the person injecting it does not disclose the material used, this should be a red flag.

Research the usual prices in your area. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is and walk away from the clinic.

Be honest with your doctor about previous injections or health issues such as shingles or herpes as a filler injection could trigger a flare-up.

Patients can a have bad reactions like nerve damage I became hot and feverish and had to go to A&E

CAPTION(S):

SWOLLEN: Jo after her fillers became infected

HAPPY: Jo before her treatment
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 25, 2013
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