Fatal operation: Mission to stop the 'Butcher of Mexico'

By Debbie Schipp

Fatal beauty: Evita Nicole Sarmonikas. Photo / Facebook
Fatal beauty: Evita Nicole Sarmonikas. Photo / Facebook

Evita Sarmonikas' mother, Maria, can't answer her home phone anymore.

The sound of a call strikes fear into her heart.

It's been like that since March 20, 2015, when she picked it up to be told her daughter was dead: victim of a secret overseas plastic surgery operation gone seriously wrong.

Evita, 29, went under anaesthetic for a buttock enhancement in the Mexican plastic surgery capital of Mexicala at the hands of Dr Victor Ramirez. The "Brazilian butt lift" operation was meant to take about two hours.

Evita never woke up.

She bled out internally on the operating table, her lungs perforated at least four times in what an autopsy revealed was probably the result of a cannula used for liposuction being driven through muscle, sinew and her diaphragm into her lungs.

For her family, the horror of her death in a country they had no idea she was in for a surgery they never knew she was having was just the beginning.

Eighteen months on, her sister, Andrea, 35, remains in Mexico, determined Dr Ramirez will pay for her sister's death, and those of others she believes she's uncovered.

Her battle for justice is detailed by reporter Denham Hitchcock in a shocking story for Sunday Night. It slams home the graphic potential cost for the 15,000 Australians who annually head overseas for cheap plastic surgery.

'This doctor needs to be stopped': Andrea Sarmonikas. Photo / Channel Seven
'This doctor needs to be stopped': Andrea Sarmonikas. Photo / Channel Seven

Andrea has spent a year-and-a-half knocking on doors, finding other victims, finding her own legal team and hounding Mexican authorities to act.

She managed to secure charges of homicide against Ramirez. He pleaded not guilty, and blew her a kiss in court.

She is simultaneously infuriated and incredulous that he is still operating.

And she won't stop until he is stopped.

Her opponent, Sunday Night reveals, is formidable, unrepentant, and seemingly untouchable.

Ramirez is a celebrated surgeon: wealthy, powerful, influential. He's even featured on a government brochure for medical tourism.

So when a patient dies under his care, and the autopsy lists "blood clot leading to heart attack" as the cause of death, alarm bells don't ring to investigate.

But even as she was she was digesting the horror that her sister had died on a mission her family had been told was a US holiday that wasn't, Andrea knew something was amiss.

"All I could think was, 'If I go, I will find her and I will bring her back home,'" Andrea says.

As reality hit she steeled herself to deliver the news to her mother.

Then, as she tells it, the screaming, "and then the chaos begins".

Flying to Mexico, suspicious of the first autopsy report, Andrea insisted on a second, independent one.

Charges: Dr Victor Ramirez. Channel Seven
Charges: Dr Victor Ramirez. Channel Seven

"He punctured her lungs. The holes couldn't hold the air," she says.

"He killed my sister. My only sister. And they just wanted me to forget."

It's a journey that left Hitchcock in awe of her bravery.

"Mexico is a place where you need to be careful who you are pointing the finger at, especially when those people have money and power and influence, so what she is doing is an incredibly brave thing. She has been there for more than a year and a half and she will not go home until it's done," he says.

"She has been banging on doors, she's in the face of the health department officials, she's involved in every detail of the police case. She has her own legal team over there. This is a woman that you don't mess with."

Hitchcock says lengths someone had taken to muddy the waters in the first autopsy were astounding.

"They had removed the diaphragm and the diaphragm would have been punctured as well," he said.

"To get to her lung he had to go through the diaphragm connective tissue then into the lung itself. The cannula is blunt instrument. An extreme amount of force would be needed to be brought to bear for that to happen."

In Australia, Ramirez would not be operating, says disgusted Sydney surgeon Dr Kourosh Tavakol.

Grieving mum Maria can't answer her home phone since her daughter Evita died. Photo / Channel Seven
Grieving mum Maria can't answer her home phone since her daughter Evita died. Photo / Channel Seven

"He'd be charged with manslaughter and lose his licence to practice and much more," he said, looking at the second autopsy report. "This is not a doctor, it's a butcher."

Evita went to sleep and never woke up, and was perhaps in that way luckier than another of the victim's Andrea has uncovered, 52-year-old American Roseanne Falconer.

She too underwent liposuction as part of a procedure under the hands of Ramirez.

She made it out of the operating theatre. For the next 36 hours in hospital she complained of severe pain and breathing difficulties as she bled out. They gave her anxiety medication as she died.

The death certificate lists a blood clot leading to heart attack as the cause of death.

So does the third case Andrea has found, a local girl who died after liposuction.

In all she has found seven women Ramirez has "mutilated", three who have died, and "another three deaths for which we still don't know names or causes we need those people to come forward".

The Sunday Night story sees Andrea confront Ramirez in her search for answers.

"It did allow her to understand the man that she is up against," Hitchcock says.

"She got to see the man who has been hiding from her - if anything I believe it has given her a bit more drive and resolve. She's in for a fight but she's up for it."

Ramirez's next court date to face the charge of homicide is in December.

Andrea will be there. "He's going to have to deal with me," she says.

"If I dropped this I couldn't live with myself. This doctor needs to be stopped."

- news.com.au

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf05 at 05 Dec 2016 06:22:20 Processing Time: 537ms