There are numerous reasons that women decide to have reconstructive breast surgery. Breast cancer survivors could be interested in rebuilding the shape of their breasts following a mastectomy through full reconstruction or augmentation (implants). Others choose implants for more personal reasons. Whatever the decision-making process, any woman undergoing reconstructive surgery expects a reasonable level of proficiency and care, and usually chooses her surgeon carefully. For one group of Indiana women, that choice led to serious medical issues and ultimately, a number of medical malpractice lawsuits.
In nine individual claims, the women allege that Dr. Alina Sholar, then employed by the Medical Cosmetic Center in Evansville, Indian, committed serious surgical errors in their reconstructive surgeries. A number of the claims also allege that Dr. Sholar later falsified medical records, though no details were provided.
The suffering described in the complaints is disturbing. One complaint alleges that Dr. Sholar used implant sizers, which stretch the skin in the breast cavity before implants are inserted, that had been used in a previous patient, causing infection in the complainant. In two other claims, the women alleged that their surgical wounds became painful and infected, and eventually popped open, exposing or expelling their silicon implants. Both women ended up consulting other doctors to treat the infections. Another claim describes the case of a woman who underwent a double mastectomy after a breast cancer diagnosis. During her reconstructive surgeries, her breast wound never completely healed which led to such significant scarring that she would likely not be able to undergo surgery to reconstruct her nipples, according to the complaint.
In a letter sent to her patients and the Evansville Courier & Press, Dr. Sholar defended herself against the allegations presented in the lawsuits. The doctor alludes to unrelated business litigation against her former employer, the Medical Cosmetic Center, writing that, "It is no coincidence," that the malpractice lawsuits were filed near the same time. Dr. Sholar was fired from the Medical Cosmetic Center in 2009, before the lawsuits were filed, due to "a difference in philosophy," according to the center's administrator.
In Indiana, a panel of medical professionals first hears potential malpractice suits and then rules whether the doctor has met or failed to meet the standard of care. The panel's rulings can then be used as evidence in court. In the claim already heard by a panel, Dr. Sholar was found to have met a sufficient standard of care. However, such a finding is very common in Indiana as the panel is made up of fellow physicians of Dr. Scholar.
When surgical errors occur, it can be difficult to determine whether they result from a bad outcome, which can happen even under the best care, or a preventable surgical mistake. The women filing these lawsuits allege that the complications they suffered as a result of Dr. Sholar's work are a result of medical malpractice, and intend to hold the plastic surgeon responsible for her work.
Evansville Courier & Press, Women Claim Evansville Doc Botched Breast Reconstructions, 2-23-13
Evansville Courier & Press, Evansville Plastic Surgeon Writes Patients About Malpractice Allegations, 3-9-13
Herald Times, Indiana Surgeon Sued, Accused of Botched Surgeries, 2-25-13