A Texas mother-of-three has passed away after traveling to Mexico to undergo a boob job and contracting meningitis — making her the ninth American victim in the outbreak of the fungal infection.
Crystal Villegas, 31, spent the last four months fighting for her life in a Texas hospital after contracting fungal meningitis, a rare infection that causes swelling around the brain and spinal cord.
She traveled to Riverside Clinic in Matamoros, Tamaulipas State, Mexico, located on the border with Texas, US, reportedly to save money on the op.
The outbreak, linked to two Mexican clinics, is feared to have infected hundreds and has already killed nine American women, mostly young mothers, highlighting the dangers of so-called ‘medical tourism.’
Ms Villegas battled the infection for four months in Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen
Ms Villegas lived in Brownsville in the state, just on the other side of the border.
She was receiving treatment at the Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen following her boob job, and passed away at around 6:30pm on 30 July.
Her husband Juan Tapia, a super featherweight boxer who fights under the name Johnny Blaze, said: ‘It was a hard four months, she fought hard and never gave up.’
According to Mr Tapia, his wife regretted having the breast implant surgery and desperately wanted to see her three young children grow up and become adults.
He added: ‘Those few months have been very difficult, very hard for me, but I am at peace that she is now resting.’
In the days following the operation in Mexico, Ms Villegas began to complain of a severe headache and her condition worsened with a high fever.
After going to the emergency room, tests revealed she had meningitis.
Ms Villegas pictured with her husband Juan Tapia, a super featherweight boxer who fights under the name Johnny Blaze
Nine Americans have died after receiving cosmetic surgery at either River Side Surgical Center (left) and Clinica K-3 (right) in Matamoros, Mexico
Mr Tapia also claimed that two of Ms Villegas’ friends had also died after undergoing a cosmetic operation, including a close friend in March.
Ms Villegas is one of nine Americans who have died from the fungal infection, including mom-of-two Jody Adkins, mom-of-four mom-of-four Lauren Robinson, who received a boob job, liposuction and Brazilian butt lift (BBL) and mom-of-one Shyanne Medrano, who underwent liposuction and a BBL. A further death of a Mexican patient also occurred, according to local news media.
Before she passed away, Mr Tapia said his wife was ‘learning how to walk again, learning how to use the restroom again, how to talk again.’
He added: ‘Please, please be aware of the risks of cosmetic surgeries. Our hope is to spread awareness so that people can actually do the research.
‘It changes everything. Everything. It’s not worth it.
‘I wish this was all just a bad dream that we could wake up from and go back to the day before the surgery and somehow, someway, convince her not to go.’
Every year, over one million US citizens travel to Mexico for cheap cosmetic procedures at private clinics where safety protocols are often deficient to US standards.
The above map shows the location of Matamoros, where the procedures took place. People are being urged not to go there for plastic surgeries
Some 1.2million US residents travel to Mexico annually to undergo elective surgery at a discount, according to Medical Tourism Mexico, which advertises that patients can save up to 80% on a comparable procedure in the US
Earlier in 2023, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advised US residents not to undergo procedures in Mexico that involve epidural medication due to an ‘outbreak of fungal meningitis.’
The fungus isolated in the two clinics appears to be Fusarium solani, which was linked to a previous meningitis outbreak in Durango, Mexico, late last year.
According to the CDC, that outbreak, which was also linked to epidural anesthetic procedures, had an almost 50 percent mortality rate with those infections — with 39 deaths among 80 cases.
The new outbreak is thought to be due to contaminated epidural equipment, used in procedures such as a BBL, or dodgy morphine.
The victims of the latest outbreak have paid up to $5,000 for their surgeries, a fraction of the price they would pay in the US.
Health officials told DailyMail.com in June that they had been able to reach roughly half of the 230 people who received surgery at either clinic since the start of the year. The outbreak was first reported in May 2023.
Both clinics were closed in May. But if other confirmed cases are found at other facilities, the number at risk could be much higher.
The CDC is urging everyone who received surgery with an epidural (injection into the spine to numb part of the body) at either clinic this year to go to the nearest emergency room as soon as possible to be evaluated, even if they do not have symptoms.
The epidural is used in procedures such as liposuction, breast augmentation and Brazilian butt lifts, which can be more than $16,000 cheaper than in the US.
If a woman got these surgeries done in the US, it could set them back up to $20,000.
Chris Van Deusen from Texas Department of Health told DailyMail.com that while most of the cases have been women, some have also been men.
He said: ‘If anybody knows of somebody who may have gone to Matamoros to get surgery, let them know that they could be affected by this and to know what to look out for and they can certainly contact either us at the state or their local health department in their area to get more information.’
In its latest update, the CDC said it is investigating 151 people who may have the infection.
There have been nine deaths. Eight of these are confirmed cases, and one is a probable case. There is now a total of ten confirmed cases.
The patients being overseen by the CDC reported symptoms including headaches, fever, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, confusion, and sensitivity to light.
Dr Tom Chiller, head of the fungal diseases branch at the CDC, told DailyMail.com: ‘It’s so critical to get people in as early as possible and it’s not really too late.
‘I think so far, the longest period from the time of procedure to symptoms has been up to 50 days.
‘Fungi just have these long indolent periods sometimes and we’re not sure why and so it’s really not too late, we want people to get in and be evaluated.’
Dr Chiller added that the agency does not know the exact source of the fungal meningitis yet, and ‘we may never know it, unfortunately.’
He said the CDC is open to the fact that the infection could have occurred in other clinics. Currently, the source of the infection is thought to be the morphine provided to patients by anesthesiologists.