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Supermodel Linda Evangelista says cosmetic procedure left her 'brutally disfigured'

The model, who became famous in the 1990s, alleges she is "unrecognizable" after getting the popular fat-reduction technique.
/ Source: TODAY

Supermodel Linda Evangelista says she has become depressed and turned into a “recluse” after undergoing a non-invasive cosmetic procedure designed to reduce fat that left her no longer “looking like myself.”

“To my followers who have wondered why I have not been working while my peers’ careers have been thriving, the reason is that I was brutally disfigured by Zeltiq’s CoolSculpting procedure which did the opposite of what it promised,” Evangelista, 56, wrote in a message posted on her Instagram account on Wednesday.

“It increased, not decreased, my fat cells and left me permanently deformed even after undergoing two painful, unsuccessful, corrective surgeries. I have been left, as the media has described, ‘unrecognizable.’”

Evangelista went on to write she developed paradoxical adipose hyperplasia — described by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons as “an unexpected increase in the number of fat cells” that can sometimes develop after the procedure — “which not only destroyed my livelihood, it has sent me into a cycle of deep depression, profound sadness and the lowest depths of self-loathing.”

She has filed a $50 million lawsuit against Zeltiq Aesthetics, alleging severe and permanent personal injuries. Allergan, the parent company of Zeltiq, did not immediately reply to a TODAY request for comment.

Paradoxical adipose hyperplasia is a rare, moderate-to-severe adverse event that has been associated with cryolipolysis — the medical name for CoolSculpting — according to a study published in Aesthetic Surgery Journal last year.

“The exact mechanisms underlying the development of PAH following [CoolSculpting] are unknown,” the authors wrote. “Although PAH poses no known health risks due to its benign nature, it is cosmetically unflattering and can be psychologically distressing to patients.”

The study found incidence rates of between 0.05% and 0.39%, or slightly higher than the manufacturer’s quoted rate of 0.025%. In her post, Evangelista wrote she was not made aware of the risk of PAH before undergoing the procedure.

The condition can be treated successfully with liposuction, doctors reported in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

CoolSculpting has been cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of visible fat bulges under the chin and jawline, on the thighs, abdomen and flank, plus bra fat, back fat, underneath the buttocks and upper arm, according to the company website.

Back in 2018, Savannah Guthrie and Jenna Bush Hager tried the procedure which uses a non-invasive technique with very low temperatures, or cryotherapy, to destroy fat cells. It is "literally freezing your fat cells," one spa manager told TODAY in 2019.

Practitioners apply a handheld device to the targeted area, which draws the tissue into an applicator cup and administers the cooling technology.

It’s not a weight-loss technique, practitioners say; instead, it may be helpful for people who are already in shape, but struggle with small areas of stubborn fat.

Patients tend to experience minimal side effects. They can include intense cold, tingling, stinging, aching and cramping during the treatment; and redness, bruising, and swelling and aching afterwards, according to the manufacturer.

Evangelista, who became famous in the 1990s, noted in her post that she wanted to go public with her story after keeping it to herself for more than five years and “rid myself of my shame.”

“I’m so tired of living this way,” she wrote. “I would like to walk out my door with my head held high, despite not looking like myself any longer.”