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Importance of Choosing the Best Plastic Surgeons in NYC: Tales of Cosmetic Surgery Gone Wrong

Jenn Fusion | May 29, 2013 | Posted in Liposuction

No one would take a child to a veterinarian for immunization or ask a dentist to perform a rhinoplasty “while he’s in there removing a tooth.” Yet, that’s precisely what is happening all across the country, unbeknownst to patients, right now.

USA Today reports that “a soaring number of doctors who trained in other medical specialties, such as vision or obstetrics… have branched into the more lucrative field of cosmetic surgery.”

The newspaper adds, “Some dentists trained in oral surgery now do breast implants; OB/GYNs perform tummy tucks, and radiologists are doing liposuction.” In many cases, the results are not just dangerous: they’re deadly.

Cosmetic surgery gone wrong

The stories are heartbreaking and pervasive:

  • Kellee Lee-Howard, a 32-year-old wife and mother of six young children, went in for a “minimally invasive” liposuction procedure and died of an overdose of the painkiller lidocaine.
  • Housekeeper and mother of two, 38-year-old Maria Shortall, suffered cardiac arrest after having a liposuction and fat transfer procedure.
  • Rohie Kah-Orukotan was taken off life support a week after an unlicensed occupational therapist performed a liposuction procedure on her, without the proper training or equipment. The cause of death was cited as “lidocaine toxicity.”
  • Rhonda Stankavich suffered permanent scarring and disfigurement, as well as pain and lidocaine overdose, when she had a breast augmentation done by her OB/GYN who she trusted. The doctor said she was simply “trying plastic surgery,” settled outside of court, and left the United States.
  • In 2009, family practitioner Sean Su performed two eight-hour breast implant surgeries on a patient who was under local anesthesia. The end result was an emergency room visit to have the implant – which was “protruding from the chest” – removed and have a severe infection treated. ER doctors called the initial procedures nothing short of “torture.”
  • Elsie Soto, a 32-year-old single mother, couldn’t move her legs after her liposuction and fat-transfer procedure. She was taken to a nurse’s home, rather than the hospital, but eventually went to the ER for two blood transfusions. All in all, she wound up with $50,000 in medical bills her insurer won’t cover for an elective cosmetic surgery gone wrong, not to mention continued leg pain and three months out of work.
  • 53-year-old Joyce Wooten hid her face for months after a facelift left her with loose flaps of skin on her neck and lopsided ears. She later had to undergo a revision surgery to look normal again. She said the worst part was being awake during the procedure and feeling the doctor trying to loosen the skin around her ear.
  • Lidvian Zelaya died of an embolism after having a liposuction / fat transfer done. In a statement, the company attorney said it was an “unavoidable complication of liposuction.”

How is this happening?

State regulation of cosmetic procedures is surprisingly lax. Doctors with a license to perform medicine are allowed to do any cosmetic procedure a patient wants done. In more than sixteen states, dentists are allowed to do Botox injections and face-lifts. States like California and Florida prohibit doctors from claiming to be “board-certified,” without indicating the particular board – but they are the minority.

“It’s out of control. It’s all about people doing a job they’re not qualified to do,” said State Senator Eleanor Sobel (D-FL). “I don’t think these general practitioners are skilled in anesthesia, which could be deadly,” she explained.

There are two types of surgeons performing cosmetic procedures, but most consumers are not aware of the difference. Ideally, a person will have a procedure done by a residency-trained plastic surgeon. This surgeon will be certified by one of the oldest industry medical groups – the American Society of Plastic Surgeons – and will have completed a minimum three-year-long residency under the guidance of senior plastic surgeons. Extensive oral and written exams in the specialty are completed as well.

Many of the “new” cosmetic surgeons are board-certified – but not in plastic surgery. Board certification is granted when a doctor meets all the qualifications listed by one of 24 specialties. While the American Board of Medical Specialties requires higher standards for education, ongoing training and expertise testing, there is no guarantee a doctor trained in one specialty will be able to perform another specialty adequately.

Some of the new converts to cosmetic surgery are not even ABMS-certified: they’re certified by the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery. Less than 8% of the group’s members are board-certified plastic surgeons – meaning that there are 50,000 to 100,000 doctors doing cosmetic surgery who weren’t trained explicitly to do so. Most members did not complete residencies, but can document some type of former education, experience and training in medicine.

Where is the oversight?

Often, insurance companies and hospitals will provide oversight by mandating that doctors only perform the procedures they are board-certified to do. However, patients are increasingly looking for low-cost alternatives to board-certified plastic surgeons by having procedures done in private practice “outpatient clinics” or “medical spas.” Furthermore, most cosmetic surgeries are paid out-of-pocket, so there is no insurer oversight either. “When there’s no insurance involved, it’s really the Wild West and there’s no sheriff in town,” explains Dr. John Santa, director for the Consumer Reports’ Health Ratings Center.

According to USA Today, analyzing problems caused by non-certified cosmetic surgery doctors is difficult to do because doctors do not have to report that they are doing cosmetic surgeries outside their specialties and they are not required to report complications to medical authorities. Also, states do not break down deaths by type of doctor. Though review sites like Healthgrades.com have been created, there is no true central consumer database where a person can go to obtain accurate outcome statistics before choosing a surgeon.

What can consumers do to protect themselves?

Low prices tend to be the biggest draw for consumers. A $10,000 to $12,000 procedure is often marketed for $5,000. Groupons and other ads use price and promises of a “quick, easy recovery” to lure people in. All too often, the result is cosmetic surgery gone wrong. According to USA Today, the costs are reduced by the use of local anesthesia, rather than general anesthesia or IV sedation. The patients are sedated outside of an accredited surgical facility or hospital by a person who is not a qualified anesthesiologist. These facilities are not properly equipped to handle an emergency, should one arise.

Choosing the best plastic surgeons in NYC

The lesson is that you shouldn’t cut corners when selecting a plastic surgeon. For the sake of your health and getting the best possible results, you must choose a qualified plastic surgeon who is board-certified by the ASPS and has a longstanding track record, as well as years of experience in producing the best results and highest patient satisfaction. You owe it to yourself to contact Dr. Thomas Loeb, who is widely considered one of the very best plastic surgeons in NYC, by calling 212-327-3700.

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