"We asked ourselves if more needs to be done to protect consumers from unsafe cosmetic surgery," says Sharfstein. "There are some protections that exist for bigger surgical centers, but gaps in regulation might put consumers at risk" because smaller operations, including med spas, can take advantage of loopholes.
In Texas, doctors with office-based surgery centers or med spas that aren't accredited by one of three outside entities or licensed as ambulatory surgery centers, can register them for any level of anesthesia used that is above local anesthesia.
It wasn't the anesthesia that harmed LeCroy, however. It was the surgery itself, according to a lawsuit filed on her behalf against internal medicine doctor Hector Molina and the company that sold him the liposuction machine. The suit charges that Sound Surgical Technologies should have known of the risks of a non-surgeon who was not adequately trained in liposuction using the machine. In its response to the suit, Sound Surgical denied the allegations and says it was not to blame for any of LeCroy's injuries. In a statement provided to USA TODAY, the company said LeCroy's attorneys aren't suggesting the liposuction machine was defective, so it "is confident that it will be dismissed from this lawsuit either before or during trial." LeCroy's attorney, Jim Mitchell, says it wasn't that the machine was defective, it was that "Dr. Molina simply didn't know how to use the system."
When they prohibited Molina from performing cosmetic surgery in April, a Texas Medical Board disciplinary panel found his "entire knowledge" of the procedure he performed on LeCroy (who it did not name) "consisted of reading a book provided by the manufacturer of the liposuction equipment, completing an online program over two weeks, passing an online exam and completing one procedure under the direct supervision of another surgeon."
LeCroy was left permanently disabled by Molina due to problems including massive infection and the nerve and muscle condition known as "compartment syndrome," which causes body tissue to die, according to her lawsuit and an expert witness report by Miami plastic surgeon Alberto Gallerani. Molina denied the allegations in an answer to the lawsuit, and his lawyer declined to comment.
After LeCroy's more-than-nine-hour liposuction and fat-transfer surgery, Molina and a doctor assisting him abandoned her in his office "without any medical supervision or monitoring," according to Gallerani's report. Her friend, Marilyn Walker, found her "short of breath, unable to stand" and in severe pain in her legs and feet, the report said. She was rushed to the emergency room and transferred to a trauma center. So much fat was injected into the muscles in her buttocks, it caused the compartment syndrome, which Molina failed to diagnose, according to Gallerani's report. LeCroy needed 27 more surgeries to treat the compartment syndrome and related complications, according to Gallerani's statement. She spent a month and a half in the hospital.
LeCroy, 49, now has a home health aide coming to her house three times a week. The money she earned selling real estate, which she did starting at age 25, went to pay medical bills, because complications from cosmetic surgery aren't covered by insurance. She says she is unable to walk without a walker and needs a wheelchair for long distances. "I have nothing," says LeCroy. "I'm down to $698 a month in disability benefits."
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