When actress Rae-Shan Barclift splurged on the popular fat-freezing treatment CoolSculpting, she got the body shape opposite the one of her dreams.
The 47-year-old, from East Orange, NJ, says she developed grotesque deposits of fat under her skin — the same debilitating side effect experienced by veteran supermodel Linda Evangelista, who claimed in a lawsuit that she’d been “brutally disfigured” by the non-surgical procedure.
“CoolSculpting left me with something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy,” said Barclift, who was diagnosed with paradoxical adipose hyperplasia, or PAH, following a $2,700 session on her stomach, waist and chin.
She added: “I felt depressed and betrayed,” and explained how she’d recently had liposuction to try and correct the allegedly botched results.
The manufacturers of CoolSculpting — whom Evangelista has hit with a $50 million lawsuit in the Southern District of New York federal court — say PAH is rare, occurring just once in 4,000 treatment cycles. But an increasing number of experts believe cases are far more common. Their concerns are backed by the results of an independent study from 2018 that found the complication strikes once in 138 treatments.
AbbVie, the parent company of CoolSculpting creator Zeltiq Aesthetics, declined to comment on this article. Its CoolSculpting Web site notes: “Rare side effects may also occur. CoolSculpting and CoolSculpting Elite may cause a visible enlargement in the treated area, which may develop 2 to 5 months after treatment and requires surgical intervention for correction.”
It happens when cryolipolysis, the technique behind CoolSculpting that kills fat cells when they reach freezing point, inexplicably does the reverse, making the cells expand and form permanent lumps.
The snafu generates big business for New York plastic surgeon Dr. Ryan Neinstein. He said that no less than 20 percent of his total clientele undergoes liposuction to correct side effects from CoolSculpting, such as PAH and abnormal tissue growth.
“Many of them have significant deformities that trigger severe emotional distress,” Neinstein told The Post of his patients. “They feel an overwhelming sense of embarrassment because they think they did something stupid.
“They say: ‘How did I fall for this scam?’ But everyone in the world wants surgical results without surgery. The problem is: If it’s too good to be true, it’s too good to be true.”
The physician’s caution came too late for Adriana Rodriguez. She says she forked over $9,000 to the “manipulative and pushy” owner of a CoolSculpting franchise, Rodriguez told The Post.
“She said I’d love the results and she’d never suggest a service that didn’t work,” recalled the marketing specialist from Palo Alto, Calif., who was unhappy with the appearance of her abdomen. She added: “I wanted my ‘mommy apron’ removed.”
In the fall of 2019, Rodriguez signed a waiver, paying scant attention to the small print saying cases of PAH were “incredibly rare” and occur “in extremely rare circumstances.”
Nonetheless, just a few months after her treatment, her name was added to the supposedly minuscule list of victims. “I remember my partner at the time putting his arms around me and saying: ‘What’s under your shirt?’” the 43-year-old said.
She was horrified to discover a series of lumps in her stomach with the consistency of baked “clay.” “It was so hard, you could knock on it,” Rodriguez added.
The single mom, who believes the trauma has brought about body dysmorphic disorder, complained to both the franchise and AbbVie, and says she was paid $16,000 in compensation.
The settlement proved to be $800 less than the cost of the painful and invasive tummy tuck Rodriguez underwent to clean up the CoolSculpting damage. And since the PAH remains in her lower abdomen, she is planning to get yet another procedure on the affected site, an $8,000 corrective liposuction.
“CoolSculpting was the worst decision of my life,” concluded Rodriguez, who, like Barclift, belongs to the new Facebook support group CoolSculpting: Side Effects and Information.
The 500-member group was launched by personal injury attorney Louiza Tarassova as she prepares for a class-action lawsuit against AbbVie. “It is public record that the manufacturer has received [7,798] reports of PAH,” the lawyer told The Post, citing court docs. Tassanova believes there may be other cases as well.
Among the potential claimants is Kaye Whitley of Atlanta, a former director at the Department of Defense. She claims she looked “nine months pregnant” following the $5,000 CoolSculpting treatment she had on her belly. The shame was so deep, she says she quit her favorite pastime of competitive dancing and left her home only to get groceries.
“Two years of my life were taken away because I felt so deformed,” said the 72-year-old, who had to draw from her retirement account to afford corrective liposuction last year. “I hope the lawsuit — and the publicity surrounding the case of Linda Evangelista — will call CoolSculpting to account.”