As we age or gain weight, some of us turn to cosmetic surgery believing it will make us look or "feel better about ourselves." Because cosmetic surgery is seldom covered by insurance, many shop around for the doctor or medical facility that offers the lowest price. As a Chicago medical malpractice lawyer, I see these cases all too often. Choosing the lowest priced doctor to perform a cosmetic procedure can have deadly consequences.
On February 14, 2010--Valentines Day--James Howard woke up excited to spend time with his wife Kellee Lee-Howard. Later that morning, when he walked into the living room, he found Kellee lying dead on the couch. The day before, she underwent a "minimally invasive" liposuction surgery. She chose the Alyne Medical Rejuvenation Institute after seeing their ad offering liposuction as a "safe" way to lose weight through surgery. Although the name may sound sophisticated or professional, this "Institute" was not registered as a surgery center. Nor was the doctor who performed the surgery board certified in any field.
A board certified doctor is one who has proven to meet all of the qualification required by the American Board of Medical Specialties, which includes taking and passing their medical specialty examination. Like many other doctors who perform cosmetic surgery, Dr. Alberto Sant Antonio was not board certified in any particular specialty let alone plastic surgery when he performed liposuction on Kathee Lee-Howard. Indeed, because of the lax nature of many state medical regulations, doctors in various fields including optometrists, radiologists and pediatricians have decided to open up their own cosmetic surgery practice. After all, cosmetic surgery can be very lucrative and requires very little training. How little training? Some liposuction courses are taught in just three days.
In the case of Kellee Lee-Howard, the autopsy report showed she died from an overdose of lidocaine. According to Dr. Alberto Gallerani, a board certified plastic surgeon and expert witness for the Howard family, Dr. Sant Antonio committed medical malpractice. Because there was so much lidocaine in Mrs. Lee-Howard's system, it showed "a basic misunderstanding of the principles of pharmacology and patient safety," said Dr. Gallerani. Indeed, Dr. Gallerani says he sees up to five patients a week whose surgeries were botched by non-plastic surgeons. This happens because Dr. Sant Antonio and other low cost doctors fill a niche in the market offering discount surgery. Unfortunately, families like the Howards who lost a loved one to a low cost surgery have paid a very heavy price.
Having reviewed many cosmetic surgery cases for possible medical malpractice, I must point out that high priced, board certified cosmetic surgeons are also fully capable of making mistakes. Likewise, lesser-trained physicians are also capable of doing quality work in cosmetic surgery. The really issue is whether the doctor is skilled and qualified to perform the particular cosmetic procedure. This includes taking the appropriate steps to minimize complications. In reality though, doctors who are board certified in plastic surgery (or are fellowship trained in plastic surgery) are usually better qualified to perform plastic surgery than those who are not.
USA Today, Lack of Training Can Be Deadly In Cosmetic Surgery, 9-13-11