BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - The Birmingham community is mourning the loss of a teacher who died hundreds of miles away from home.
Alicia Renette Williams, 45, died in the Dominican Republic.
Williams was a 9th grade English teacher at Huffman High for three years.
Her body was brought back to Alabama on Monday.
Family members say Williams went to the Caribbean island to have elective procedures on Sunday, June 2nd. After the operations, she suffered from blood clots and other complications. Williams died five days later.
“She’s a mother. She has a 14-year-old son. She got her bachelor’s from Jacksonville State University and she went on to get her master’s degree in English,” said family friend Dr. Myla Bennett.
Dr. Bennett of Ederra Bella Plastic Surgery and Medical Spa said she posted a tearful video online after Williams’ family contacted her.
Dr. Bennett did not treat Williams.
“[Her son said] he wanted everyone to know that she was a social butterfly. She was a great cook and very loving. And, his favorite thing she made for him was Red Velvet Cake,” Dr. Bennett said.
Dr. Bennett, a safe surgery advocate, posts videos online warning about the dangers of over-seas operations. She said Williams was a regular viewer and often asked questions.
“The thing about the Dominican Republic, it’s a little different than Miami, Columbia and Tijuana, where a lot of the bad things tend to happen. Even to the women who don’t die, a lot of the woman come back and get really horrific infections that are really difficult to clear,” said Bennett.
The CDC has released numerous travel warnings against going to the Dominican Republic for medical procedures. Dr. Bennett said the infections are hard to treat.
“In a month or so after surgery they’ll start to, all of a sudden, get these vague symptoms and start to get these draining abscesses. Then they’ll be going to the ER here in the United States trying to figure out what’s going on,” said Dr. Bennett. “What they’re getting is called mycobacterium abscesses. And those are a public health risk. They aren’t treated with normal antibiotics.”
Dr. Bennett said the antibiotics are heavy duty and usually make the patient extremely sick. Treatment can also take six months to a year, or longer. She also warns against having too many procedures at one time.
“When you don’t have a doctor that has ethics and you don’t have regulations on top of that, and they can literally just do whatever, even if it’s not safe, then that’s kind of a recipe for disaster,” she said.
Another issue is social media and private surgery groups. Dr. Bennett said the groups perpetuate unrealistic body images.
“The women become obsessed with getting their surgery based on the stuff that is fed to them inside those groups,” Bennett said.
Bennett said patients are also tricked by titles and do not understand the difference between a cosmetic surgeon and plastic surgeon. Bennett explained plastic surgeons receive specialized training and are board certified to perform surgical procedures. Patients should always search the American Board of plastic surgeons’ website to confirm if a surgeon is board certified, according to Bennett.
Bennett said her efforts to warn the public about plastic surgery overseas is not to drive more patients to offices stateside but to prevent tragedies like what happened to Williams from happening again.
"She was a diva and she loved fashion. She loved her students and her students loved her," said Bennett.
Birmingham City Schools released this statement:
“Birmingham City Schools is deeply saddened to confirm Alicia Williams, a ninth-grade English teacher at Huffman High School, recently passed away in the Dominican Republic. Ms. Williams recently completed her third year at Huffman. Our hearts go out to her family during this tragic situation, and she will be missed by the Huffman community.”
Williams’ funeral services will be held this weekend in Alabama. She will be laid to rest in Georgia.