Icilma Cornelius was weeks away from her wedding in 2016 when she visited a gleaming brick medical office atop a hill in suburban Atlanta, home of the practice of Windell Davis Boutté, a dermatologist who describes herself as a “nationally and internationally known” cosmetic surgeon.
Cornelius, then 54, had gone in to inquire about Botox and other anti-aging facial fillers, according to court documents. But while there, Boutté and the staff reportedly persuaded Cornelius to return for several cosmetic surgeries before her nuptials: A standard panniculectomy would remove fat and skin from her lower abdomen, and “SmartLipo,” a type of laser liposuction, would remove fat from her upper abdomen, love handles, bra roll, lower back and upper third of her buttocks.
Convinced, Cornelius paid in full for the procedures that day, a total of $11,284.50, and the clinic scheduled her surgeries for less than a week later.
“She just wanted to be perfect for her wedding dress,” her son, Ojay Liburd, would later tell WSB-2 in Atlanta.
On Feb. 18, 2016, Cornelius returned to Boutté's office for what she expected to be a cosmetic transformation. Something, however, went terribly wrong that day.
Eight hours into her surgery — after anesthesia was discontinued but before her lower abdomen had been sutured — Cornelius went into cardiac arrest. A medical student in the room called 911 to report Cornelius as unconscious and not breathing.
Even after paramedics arrived and stabilized Cornelius, there were delays in transporting her to a hospital. It took Boutté about 30 minutes to close up Cornelius's abdomen, and then paramedics had to carry Cornelius down the stairs because there was no elevator at Boutté's clinic big enough to accommodate a stretcher, according to court documents.
By the time Cornelius arrived at Eastside Medical Center, she was “in severe distress, unresponsive ... and unable to breathe without a ventilator,” a complaint filed on her behalf later stated. Cornelius suffered “a severe and debilitating catastrophic brain injury” and today relies on a feeding tube and round-the-clock care.
The wedding was canceled.
Cornelius is one of at least seven women who have sued Boutté for negligence, among other allegations, after their cosmetic procedures went awry, as first reported through a joint investigation by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB-TV Atlanta. At least three of the seven lawsuits have settled for undisclosed amounts.
Lawyers for Boutté's former patients claim that the doctor fraudulently advertised herself as being board-certified in “surgery and dermatology,” when she was only certified in the latter, and also misstated the qualifications of staff members who were allowed to participate in surgical procedures.
Boutté, who did not respond to requests for comment for this article, has maintained in court depositions that she did nothing wrong and that the adverse effects her patients suffered after surgery were out of her control. And because, under Georgia law, any physician with a medical license can also practice surgery, Boutté was operating legally then and continues to do so today.
The cases have pointed a spotlight on Boutté Contour Surgery & Skin in Lilburn, Ga., which promises on its website to deliver “snatched” waists and “impressive silhouettes, body contouring and skin that glows!” to men and women seeking plastic surgery.
“DOCTOR TO THE STARS!” the site exclaims of Boutté, who is listed as the center's medical director. “Dr. Boutté GETS IT! ... She is known for her personable bedside manner, honesty, aggressive work ethic, and PROFICIENT ATTENTION TO DETAIL.”
The lawsuits against Boutté have recently gained notoriety in part because of about two dozen videos that were filmed and posted to the clinic's YouTube channel, which showed the doctor dancing, rapping and gesturing over her patients' naked bodies, apparently during their procedures.
In one, Boutté raps along to the O.T. Genasis song “Cut It,” waving her scalpel to the beat of the song. At some point, she begins making incisions on the patient's side, slicing into the skin back and forth to the lyrics: “Them bricks is way too hot, you need to cut it. Your price is way too high, you need to cut it.”
In another video, filmed with the Commodores' “Brick House” playing in the background, Boutté dances next to her patient's bare buttocks and holds up a tube to mimic a trumpet. In several of the videos, including two to Migos's “Bad and Boujee” and Beyoncé's “Formation” (“Okay, ladies, now let's join sexy nation! Dr. Boutté is the best at creating!” Boutté sings), the doctor is not wearing surgical gloves or a mask as she improvises lyrics over her patients, who appear to be sedated.
Those videos, which were used to promote Boutté Contour Surgery & Skin, have since been removed from YouTube. An Instagram page for Boutté's clinic is no longer publicly visible. The promotional videos reappeared in news reports recently after Chloe Dallaire, a lawyer representing some of Boutté's former patients, presented them as evidence that Boutté was not practicing proper infection control when she operated on a woman named Donna Shah.
In that case, Shah agreed to cosmetic surgery thinking she was getting laser liposuction but later discovered during Boutté's deposition she had received conventional liposuction, Dallaire said. In addition, they also discovered that Boutté's housekeepers were the ones cleaning the operating room at the clinic, she added.
Shah's complaint alleges that she reported post-surgery pain to Boutté but was never advised to seek medical attention. Shah wound up visiting a hospital on her own and was hospitalized for 30 days, with “abdominal wall and gluteal cellulitis with abscess; aspiration pneumonia; acute respiratory failure; acute renal failure; severe sepsis due to cellulitis and pneumonia; severe anemia due to acute blood loss from the liposuction; acute left gastrocnemius vein thrombosis, transient hypotension, leukocytosis, and tachycardia,” the complaint stated.
Shah's story is similar to that of Mitzi McFarland and Kristine Dolly, sisters who also agreed to undergo “SmartLipo” but later discovered they had received conventional liposuction, lawyer Susan Witt said.
In photos published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, McFarland's abdomen appears lumpy and disfigured. McFarland told the newspaper that Boutté performed a second surgery to fix the results of the first, and assured her she would be able to drive home herself after the procedure because she would not be heavily sedated.
“I was put to sleep, and then I woke up some 18 hours later in the hotel bedroom with a McDonald’s sandwich in my hand, one bite out of it,” McFarland told WSB-2, adding that she believed Boutté forged her signature after taking her to a hotel near the clinic.
Both Witt and Dallaire, who met each other after realizing they were representing clients in ongoing cases against Boutté, say they are frustrated that the Georgia Composite Medical Board has not taken disciplinary action against Boutté.
“In 14 years of medical malpractice [law], both on the defense and plaintiffs' side, I have never seen anything as outrageous and black-and-white as this doctor,” Dallaire said. “From every angle, whether it's staffing, lack of protocol ... every which way you look at this case, it’s malpractice.”
The Georgia Composite Medical Board, which oversees licensing for medical professionals in the state, did not immediately return requests for comment Monday.
Dan DeLoach, the board's chairman, told WSB-2 that there is “a tiny minority of physicians who are practicing beyond their scope” but denied that the board was slow to investigate complaints against doctors. He said he could not comment on Boutté specifically.
“You don’t want to rush to judgment and end up making an error that could be very professionally harmful,” DeLoach told the news station.