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Gastric –Bypass Patient Sues Her Surgeon

Dec 19, 2004 | Knight Ridder Sheri Zemel once weighed 347 pounds.

She underwent gastric-bypass surgery, and shed 210 pounds from her five-foot four-inch frame.

Thrilled with her new look, the single mother underwent plastic surgery in Oakland Park to remove the loose, sagging skin that dangled under her arms.

Complications during the surgery left her, in her words, a "deformed freak."

In a photo, the right upper half of one arm appears deeply scarred. She believes the results have destroyed her looks, sending her back to a place in which she once again despises her body. She sued her surgeon, Dr. Peter J. Simon.

Simon says he did nothing wrong. His medical record with the state is clean. But a Broward jury sided with Zemel this month, and, after a six-day trial in Fort Lauderdale, awarded her just over $1.5 million in compensatory damages.

Simon said he would appeal the verdict.

"I wanted to give up again. I looked disgusting," said Zemel, 35. "He didn't do what he said he would do."

Zemel, a preschool worker, described her life of limited wardrobe choices. She steers clear of clingy and transparent fabric and wears only long sleeves, no matter what the temperature.

The sizable award raises significant issues about the expectations that formerly obese patients have for their new bodies, several plastic surgeons said.

"Sometimes they expect a little more than is realistic," said Dr. Peter Fodor, president of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery and an associate professor of plastic surgery at the University of California, Los Angeles.

"Body contouring surgery after gastric-bypass treatment comes with scars. And all kinds of things can happen in surgery."

The case comes amid a growing demand for body contouring surgery among post-bariatric, or gastric-bypass patients. Doctors say formerly obese patients are often left with overhanging wads of skins, folds that can get irritated and infected. Breasts can take on a deflated appearance. For this reason, demand for nip-and-tuck procedures is increasing as more and more men and women undergo the bypass surgery.

More than 100,000 people had gastric-bypass surgery last year, compared with 23,000 in 1997, according to the American Society for Bariatric Surgery.

Not insignificantly, doctors say patients who have undergone the stomach procedure face special risks when going in for plastic surgery. Some are nutritionally deficient. Others have problems with wound-healing.

The bottom line: This is not minor surgery.

"They are trading contours for scars," said Seth Thaller, chief of plastic surgery at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine.

Patients "have to be aware that there are going to be scars, and they are going to obvious."

Zemel already had reached an undisclosed settlement with North Ridge Medical Center in Oakland Park, the hospital where her surgery took place.

Simon takes a different view of the case.

"I understand Ms. Zemel's disappointment in the outcome of her surgery; however, this was not malpractice," Simon said in a statement.

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