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Medicine shops spur consulate warning

The so-called "botanicas" that have cropped up in Hispanic communities throughout the valley have once again caught the ire of the Mexican Consulate in Las Vegas after a 42-year-old woman died from a botched surgery at the hands of an unlicensed doctor.

Atzimba Luna Becerril, a spokeswoman for the consulate, said Tuesday that botanicas have become "widespread" in Las Vegas’ Mexican and Hispanic communities.

Some of the strip mall botanicas, which are typically advertised as natural or herbal medicine shops, harbor unlicensed doctors. Others dispense medical advice and drugs that are not legally available in the United States without a prescription.

Las Vegas police said Elena Caro died at North Vista Hospital on Saturday afternoon after a backroom procedure to enhance her buttocks earlier that day in the small office of a floor tile business, Tiles N More, at 3310 Charleston Blvd.

Luna Becerril said that while some medicine at botanicas can be helpful, Hispanics who frequent the stores might avoid seeking help from licensed professionals to treat serious ailments.

"When you’re talking about life-threatening illnesses and no action is being taken, then you’re taking a risk," Luna Becerril said. "That’s the area we are concerned about."

She called the Las Vegas woman’s death "very unfortunate."

The local consulate previously spoke out on botanicas in 2009 after several of them were shut down by state health officials after a botched gynecological surgery in the back of one of the shops.

Ruben Dario Matallana-Galvas, 55, and his 47-year-old wife, Carmen Olfidia Torres-Sanchez, were booked on murder charges Sunday.

The Colombian nationals were taken into custody at McCarran International Airport on Saturday night as they tried to return to their South American homeland.

According to an arrest report, Matallana-Galvas told police that he injected Caro with 200 cubic centimeters of a "gel type substance in six separate injection sites" in her buttocks.

He told police he initially refused to treat Caro because he did not have the proper equipment but later changed his mind.

The Clark County coroner’s office will determine what that gel-type substance was.

Caro left the office on foot. Several people who noticed her walking in obvious pain in the 350 block of East Lake Mead Boulevard called 911. She was taken by ambulance to the hospital where she died.

Caro had been dropped off at the Charleston office by her 17-year-old daughter. Police have not called the location where Caro had her procedure a botanica.

Luna Becerril said there are many reasons some Hispanics avoid the traditional health care system in Southern Nevada and seek care at botanicas. She said sometimes they can be cheaper than traditional care, and many Hispanics have been laid off and lost their health insurance.

She also said some Hispanics are more familiar with botanicas because of references from family and friends and might feel more comfortable with them because they employ Spanish speakers.

Emilia Guenechea, coordinator of a health program at the consulate, said she is unsure whether those without legal papers in the Hispanic community frequent botanicas more often than legal residents.

She said the consulate, 823 S. 6th St., works with Hispanics and non-Hispanics to get them adequate health care from licensed doctors.

Guenechea said that the consulate works with a network of doctors and that some of them are willing to accept pay on a sliding scale for lower-income patients.

The program stresses to people how to verify whether a doctor is licensed in Nevada through the Nevada State Board of Medical Examiners website, she said.

Luna Becerril said it’s evident that there are some people within the Hispanic community who are exploiting other Hispanics for profit.

Guenechea said the idea of botanicas as a form of alternative medicine is a popular concept among Hispanics, but some botanicas as they operate in Southern Nevada have turned into something entirely different.

"People are taking advantage of that cultural thing we have with alternative medicine," Guenechea said.

Contact reporter Antonio Planas at aplanas@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4638.

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