July 2, 2005

U.S. experts warn of risky silicone ‘pump parties’

By Marty Graham

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - A dangerous underground of "pumpparties" has sprung up around the country catering totransgender individuals seeking more feminine features throughcheap -- sometimes deadly -- black-market silicone injections,experts say.

Two San Diego transgender women were near death on Fridayafter unlicensed practitioners injected them with liquidsilicone at a "pump party" five days earlier, officials said.

Police are searching for a Los Angeles-area woman suspectedof injecting as many as a dozen people at two parties that day.None of those at the second party has contacted police.

The two injured women, aged 30 and 45, are among hundreds,perhaps thousands, of people who have sought the illegaltreatments to save money and to avoid dealing with the medicalestablishment, experts say. Their goal is to make their hips,lips, cheeks and buttocks appear more feminine.

"I've been hearing about pump parties for many years butmore in the past few," said Dr. Walter Bockting, thecoordinator of transgender health services at the University ofMinnesota's Center for Human Sexuality. "Being beautiful andshapely is very important to certain segments of thetransgender community -- it's a self-esteem builder for peoplewho are feeling rejected by their families and communities."

At pump parties, groups of patients typically receivesilicone injections from an unlicensed, untrained person who isoften using non-medical silicone. Costs tend to run between$200 and $1,000 per treatment, police said.

Industrial-grade silicone, floor products and sealers, anda host of contaminants including motor oil and paraffin haveall turned up in post-party patients.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has prohibited directinjection of silicone since 1992. Medical-grade silicone nowcan be inserted into bodies legally only if it is encapsulatedin a sac -- as in a breast implant -- and does not come intocontact with tissue.


The black market silicone and contaminants can trigger animmune system reaction that results in respiratory arrest ---as happened to the two San Diego women, police said.

There also have been cases of blood poisoning, including adeath in Georgia in 2003, and other complications that led tothe deaths of three women in Houston and a Florida woman, alsoin 2003.

Still, some in the transgender community see siliconeinjection as a reasonable choice and many Web sites offeradvice on how to get injections more safely.

"Are you going to trust your best girlfriend or a doctorwho may be rude to you and refuse to treat you or disrespectyour reasons?" said Mara Keistling, of the National Center forTransgender Equality, in Washington, D.C. "We provide peoplewith advice because we hope to have people do this as safely aspossible."

Doctors warn that there is no safe way to inject silicone.

"We know silicone isn't safe when it's not encapsulated,"said Janie Cordray of the Medical Board of California. "We knowit migrates, that it often becomes part of the tissue and can'tbe removed, that it causes chronic, serious health problems.

"It's really sad that people can't wait and haveappropriate, safer surgery."