Atlanta dancer says popular cosmetic procedure ‘CoolSculpting’ left her disfigured

CBS46 Investigates found that at least $7,000 cases of PAH have been reported to Abbvie, the parent company of Coolsculpting since 2009.
Updated: Nov. 4, 2021 at 1:35 PM EDT
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MARIETTA, Ga. (CBS46) — An Atlanta woman says a popular cosmetic procedure left her with a “deformity” on her body. As investigative reporter Rachel Polansky uncovered, she’s part of a growing number of people taking legal action.

CBS46 Investigates met Kaye Whitley at Atlanta Dance in Marietta. “Oh, dancing is good for everything,” Whitley said. “It helps your balance, your muscles and your flexibility.”

Whitley moves with the agility of a woman half her age. But the 72-year-old does not have the confidence she used too. “Because I’m competitive and dance and perform, I wanted to look the best I could on the floor,” Whitley said. “I had some belly fat I wanted to get rid of.”

That’s why she was excited when she heard about a non-invasive procedure called CoolSculpting. The FDA-approved technology claims to work by “freezing fat cells” in areas like the stomach, thighs and arms, holding parts of the body between two paddles and cooling to below freezing temperatures.

In January 2020, Whitley paid $5,000 dollars to have it done on her stomach.

“My stomach did go way down and I was happy at that point but then things started changing and I started having a lot of pain,” Whitley said. “At times, it felt like there were rocks in my stomach when I would bend over.”

By July, Whitley could no longer dance. And she said the treated area began to grow larger, hardening into an unnaturally shaped lump.

“Patients will have areas that are treated actually hypertrophy or get larger. So, instead of getting the result of reducing the fat volume, they actually get larger,” said Dr. John Connors, FACS, Plastic Surgery Group of Atlanta.

“So, it’s the opposite effect?” Polansky asks. “Yeah, it’s the opposite,” Dr. Connors responded.

Whitley went to see board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. John Connors, and she wasn’t the first to do so.

Dr. Connors diagnosed her with ‘Paradoxical Adipose Hyperplasia’ or PAH – a serious condition where an attempt at fat-freezing, results in fat enlargement.

CBS46 Investigates has found that at least 7,000 cases of PAH have been reported to Abbvie, the parent company of CoolSculpting, since 2009, according to court documents.

“Basically, it’s a mass at the treatment site,” said personal injury attorney, Louiza Tarassova.

Tarassova is preparing a class-action lawsuit against Abbvie, for quote “creating an environment that deprived consumers of being properly informed about the risk of PAH.”

As she explains it, the condition does not resolve on its own and the only way to remove it is through invasive surgery.

“The manufacturer has spent millions on advertising the benefits and there is very little information about the risks of the procedure,” Tarassova said.

Risks that Whitley said are not worth taking.

“You end up in a state way worse than what you went in for,” Whitley said. “I would like for them to take this machine off the market. They’re deforming people every day.”

Left: Whitley says this was her stomach after CoolSculpting

Right: Whitley says this was her...
Left: Whitley says this was her stomach after CoolSculpting Right: Whitley says this was her stomach after corrective liposuction(Kaye Whitley)

Whitley has since had corrective liposuction - another expensive surgery - to remove that unnatural lump on her stomach.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the FDA tells CBS46 Investigates: “The FDA cannot comment on litigation. The FDA monitors adverse event reports in addition to other methods after a device is on the market and will take action where appropriate.”

Abbvie, the parent company of CoolSculpting, did not respond to our multiple requests for an interview.