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Cosmetic Surgery Clinic Settles 18 Lawsuits, 5 Pending

Apr 17, 2004 | www.bocaratonnews.com

South Florida residents have been left suffering, disfigured and even dead after surgical procedures have gone awry at the Florida Center for Cosmetic Surgery in Fort Lauderdale.

Boca Raton resident Melanie, who declined to give her last name, said she saved up her money to purchase $4,000 breast implants, and even took out a loan on her car.

“They told me, ‘you’ll love it Melanie, everyone is happy here,’†she said.

But 41-year-old Melanie doesn’t love her new self.

Her breasts are more than a cup-size difference, her nipples are misshapen, and her left breast is still causing her chronic and sharp pain almost one year after her operation performed by Dr. Timothy Alexander, she said.

“I have terrible pain—it actually feels like someone is stabbing me,†Melanie said. “I can only sleep one or two hours a night because the pain continuously wakes me up.â€

But the center doesn’t promise perfection. After an augmentation, breasts may not attain their final feel or shape for three to four months, according to the center’s website.

Melanie said she was experiencing mild pain for several weeks immediately following her surgery, but after a nurse allegedly stabbed her breast with scissors during a routine stitch removal, the pain in her left breast became unbearable, she said.

“They told me they fixed the problem by firing the nurse, but they haven’t fixed the problem. The problem is that my breast is killing me,†she said.

Although the center is prohibited by federal and state law from discussing any information about a patient without signed consent, according to general manager of the center, Tess Jahnke, she said that patients’ health, safety and satisfaction are top priorities.

“All of the patients undergo a thorough medical evaluation to determine whether they are good candidates for cosmetic surgery,†said Janke. “The center has highly experienced physicians with proven track records.â€

The Florida Board of Medicine has disciplined the center’s medical director Dr. Jeffrey Hamm and Alexander, two of the four surgeons, for misconduct, according to state records. Neither carries medical malpractice insurance, and patients cannot easily collect from the center because it “has no supervision or control over the medical services provided by the physician,†according to court records.

If a patient is unhappy with their surgery, Jahnke said the center works with them to try and meet and exceed expectations.

“An overwhelming majority of our patients are very pleased with their results,†she said. “As a matter of fact, more than 80 percent of our patients are referred by someone who had a cosmetic procedure here.â€

Although Melanie underwent reconstructive surgery with Dr. T. Lanson at the West Palm Beach center affiliate and was given steroid injections to help the pain, she said she feels no different. Lanson has since left the center, leaving Melanie no options for follow up.

“I’m not going back to Fort Lauderdale because I don’t want Hamm, Alexander or anyone else there touching me,†she said.

Melanie will be filing a two-pronged lawsuit on counts of medical malpractice and pain and suffering against Alexander, and it won’t be the first.

Malpractice mayhem

Since 2000, the center and its doctors have settled 18 medical malpractice lawsuits, and five more are pending, including the case of Hollywood housewife Mona Alley.

Alley, a diabetic, lost both of her legs as a result of a punctured intestine during a tummy tuck at the center.

“I just couldn’t lose my tummy, and I heard an cosmetic surgery ad on TV that liposuction was good for diabetics,†said Alley. “I went to the center and the doctor told me it was fantastic and that there would be almost no down time.â€
The day after Dr. John Pinnella performed Alley’s tummy tuck, she said she was so sick she couldn’t move.

“The pain was unbearable,†said Alley. “But when I went back for follow up, he patted me on the arm and said I’d be fine.â€

After two weeks of complaining, Alley said the doctor finally put his stethoscope on and listened to her heart. He immediately sent her to her primary care doctor.

Tests revealed air in her abdomen, water in her lungs, and blood clots in her legs.

“The liposuction had pierced through the abdominal wall,†said Alley’s lawyer. “The doctor cut the intestine and it was leaking feces into her abdomen for that time frame.â€

Alley’s recovery included the use of a colostomy bag for nearly a year and the reconstruction of her entire buttocks, said her lawyer.

Once a champion bowler and a very active woman, Alley now struggles to perform everyday tasks.
“I’m managing, but it was real hard in the beginning,†she said. “In my heart I feel that if I give up he wins.â€

“If I knew then what I know now, I would never have considered this with them,†said Alley. “I would have gone with a good doctor at a reputable hospital. In the center they don’t want to do aftercare. They just don’t care.â€
And the horror stories don’t end here.

Adrianna Arroyo of Miami almost died after her tummy tuck, breast implants and liposuction all performed on the same day by Alexander in 1999. Although she was vomiting for a week and complaining of weakness, she was only given attention a week later at Baptist Hospital where she almost died of kidney failure.

Katherine Kennedy, a North Miami Beach flight attendant, had seen the television ads and her friend also recommended the center.

She put up $5,000 for a 2-for-1 special breast implants and liposuction on her thighs. Both left Kennedy with nerve damage that can only be treated with spinal epidurals, as documented in her suit.

And Kennedy may have been lucky, according to experts who say that two procedures in one day can cause deadly complications.

Emergency rule

On Feb. 11, the Florida Board of Medicine called for a 90-day statewide ban on performing liposuction and tummy tuck procedures within 14 days of each other on the same patient in an office surgery setting.

The prohibition is the result of a Board of Medicine Emergency Rule based upon patient safety concerns, according to the board’s website, which also requires that physicians who perform level II and level III office surgery submit copies of surgical logs for procedures performed in an office setting during the period of June 1, 2002 through January 31, 2004.

An estimated 77,000 cosmetic surgery procedures are performed in Florida each year, most taking place in offices. No one can be certain of how many serious complications have occurred as a result, but there 36 cosmetic surgery-related deaths in Florida have been reported since 1997.
Two recent deaths can be traced back to the Florida Center in Fort Lauderdale.

Bartender James K. McCormick passed away on Nov. 14, 2003, his 51st birthday, after receiving a chin implant and face lift from Alexander.
The Sun-Sentinel ad department’s Jacqueline Roberts died three days after a tummy tuck and breast reduction at the center.

The causes of death for McCormick and Roberts have yet to be determined. Meanwhile, Melanie and friend Linda Rimas are on the warpath to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.

Rimas said Lanson, a West Palm Beach doctor, referred to the Fort Lauderdale affiliate as “a meat market.â€

“It’s disgusting. Physicians like this play on the vulnerability of women,†she said. “This place should be shut down and never reopened.


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