ATLANTA - “Here I am walking and breathing, not knowing that I have a rotting corpse inside of me.”
For ten years, transgender woman Taliyah Cassadine got silicone injections once every other week. Despite crippling medical issues, she kept going back.
Cassadine says illegal silicone injections have become widely available in Atlanta. The so-called “pump doctors” offer a cheap and dangerous alternative to traditional plastic surgery.
It was a risk Cassadine was willing to take.
“I always felt like I had to be better in my looks. I didn't think I could accomplish my goals if I didn't look the part,” she said. She started getting the injections in her breasts, buttocks, and cheeks in 2004.
Despite near daily fevers, and almost losing her left leg, she kept going back.
“I was so used to feeling bad that it became normal,” she said.
She drove to Albany, Georgia weekly to get injections from Miesha Santiago, her “pump doctor”.
“I laid across her bed, and received the injections there.” There was no sanitation, no anesthesia, no aftercare. Santiago was no doctor.
While she was still a customer, Santigo went to prison for murder after another woman she injected died. Cassadine testified against her, and eventually stopped getting the injections.
Real doctors have been able to remove 90% of the silicone in her body, but it wasn’t pretty. The substance was clear when it went in, but was like black tar when it came out. Cassadine said doctors and nurses were gagging and had to leave the room during the removal procedures.
Even the high-profile trial wasn't enough to stop a close friend and mentor, who died last week after getting silicone injections in Tampa.
“If she only knew there were people who thought she was perfect,” Cassadine said. “She was perfect to me.”
Cassidine started a Facebook group to speak out against the illegal practice, and she talks to people considering getting it done honestly. She contacts police every time she has information to help them track down an illegal ‘pump doctor’. Every time one is arrested, another one goes into business. She calls it an epidemic in Atlanta.
“I've gotten to the point of removing my shirt and showing people my scars,” she said. “Because people need to see the ugly side.”
She wants to see police crackdown on the practice, and for people to stop getting these illegal silicone injections.
“It's time for people to stop dying to be beautiful,” she said.