In July, 51-year-old Isel Pineda went into cardiac arrest while undergoing “SmartLipo” in the New York office of one Dr. Oleg Davie. She died shortly after.
Davie was not certified to perform the liposuction surgery—or any surgery for that matter. As an internist his specialty is in non-surgical diagnosis and treatment. Yet he took Pineda’s money and put her on the table from which she never got up.
Pineda’s story is just one in a tragically long list of deaths occurring as a result of plastic surgeries performed at the hands of unqualified physicians without certification from the American Board of Plastic Surgery, the only body in the U.S. approved to certify doctors in the specialty.
A Framingham, Massachusetts mother died at 39 following breast augmentation done by a family practitioner with a two-day plastic surgery training course under his belt. Sharon Carpenter Nicholson, 61, died in Beverley Hills when a gynecologist botched her liposuction. Peter Normann, an internist in Arizona, lost two patients before having his license restricted, then handed the scalpel to a homeopathic doctor who caused the death of a third patient in Normann’s office. An eye doctor in Georgia was sanctioned for doing implants. In August, an Oregon internal medicine specialist gave her friend a deadly tummy-tuck. The stories, sadly, just keep coming.
“This is a huge problem. There are hundreds of deaths in the U.S. every year from improperly trained doctors doing real surgery,” says YouBeauty Cosmetic Surgery Expert Arthur Perry, M.D. “If you have $100,000 you can build an operating room in your office and do surgery without ever doing a day of surgical residency.”
Cosmetic surgeries are up virtually across the board, with about 14 million procedures performed annually. And from Botox, chemical peels and laser hair removal to facelifts, liposuction and boob jobs, more and more doctors are jumping on the bandwagon. Unfortunately, they’re jumping right through enormous legal loopholes dating back to the 1930s that allow just about anyone with a medical license to get in on the action.
“Right now it’s the Wild West of plastic surgery,” Dr. Perry decries. “There are vascular surgeons injecting Resylane into wrinkles, tummy tucks by gynecologists, dentists doing facelifts and rhinoplasty.”
Why the rush into cosmetic work? The simple answer, says South Dakota plastic surgeon Ahmed Abdullah, M.D., is money: “Reimbursements from insurance companies have decreased significantly in recent years, so much so that physicians have had to diversify their practices to maintain profits.”
Plastic surgery is a cash business, and business is good.
Why Board Certification Matters
Everyone who graduates from medical school has a degree that allows him to go on to practice medicine. But that doesn’t mean that he has a specialty, or the years of training that go along with that. To go into family practice requires three years of training after med school. Dermatology takes four. To become specialized in plastic surgery, you have to do a six-year residency, just one year less than a cardiac or neurosurgeon.
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