KFOX14 Investigates: Botched Beauty, patient rights when you go under the knife

KFOX14 Investigates: Botched Beauty, patient rights when you go under the knife

One woman tells KFOX14 Investigates her plastic surgeon botched her surgery.

While going under the knife comes with a risk, KFOX14 Investigates finds out, Texans have few rights to protect themselves in some cases.

We first began investigating a case of plastic surgery gone wrong in El Paso two years ago.

But what we found, when you're harmed on an operating table in Texas, in some cases there is very little you can do.

“I was just hoping to feel better about myself,” said “Maria.”

It was supposed to be a mommy makeover.

“It totally went south,” said Maria.

It turned into a scarring experience for this mother of four.

“I feel like I’ve just been chopped into. It's horrible,” she said.

It left her feeling butchered and botched.

“I hate it,” said Maria.

I’ve been speaking with “Maria” for two years. We agreed not to reveal her identity.

“I feel I am able to tell my story more openly not showing my face. It is embarrassing to me,” she said.

She had a breast augmentation and liposuction done by an El Paso plastic surgeon.

“He had a five-star review, I asked two people about him, I thought I did my homework,” she said.

But after the surgery, Maria knew something had gone terribly wrong.

“I probably could have died, I was losing so much blood,” said Maria.

In the days that followed, her areola turned black.

She had a condition called necrosis.

“Basically my areola was falling off, it was just raw skin,” she said.

Maria said she followed the after-care instructions.

KFOX14 Investigates reviewed her correspondence with her doctor's office, photos and post-operation notes.

Her doctor's response?

“He told me it wasn't a big deal. You can tell in the photos that it was big deal,” she said.

The doctor's notes obtained by KFOX14 Investigates say there's no swelling, bruising or hardening.

He also wrote the breasts were symmetrical.

The photos tell a different story.

“They were turning black and blue and bleeding,” she said.

Her breasts weren't symmetrical. They were lopsided and her areola was falling off.

In email correspondence the doctor’s office tells Maria necrosis is a risk of surgery, though not as common.

The doctor offered to do a revision surgery, free of charge.

“That was my second mistake,” she said.

Maria said that came out even worse.

“It looked horrible,” she said.

After the surgery, Maria discovered holes in the back of her legs.

She suspects the doctor performed liposuction, without her consent.

In letters to the doctor's office, she asked if they performed lipo on the back of her legs.

The surgeon's office denies it.

To this day, Maria said she has constant pain in her legs.

“It definitely takes over your life,” she said.

Again, the doctor offered a revision surgery.

“The third time, I just ran,” she said.

Maria turned to an online community and found other women with similar experiences going to the same surgeon.

She filed a formal complaint with the Texas Medical Board.

Nothing came of it.

She also sought out an attorney, but no one would take her case.

“There is nothing you can do when something like this happens, and I say that because I tried everything,” said Maria.

“When we have no accountability in this state, no one is safe,” said Ware Wendell, executive director of Texas Watch, a consumer advocacy group in Austin.

Their campaign, Under the Knife, aims to educate the public about the decreasing rights of patients in Texas.

“We have some of the worst laws in the county right now,” said Wendell.

In 2003, the state passed legislation that reduces the cap on non-economic damages, commonly referred to as pain and suffering, to $250,000, which may not even cover the cost of a lawsuit.

“Essentially you are left with no recourse,” said Wendell.

Wendell said this low cap for insurance companies has resulted in Texas becoming a dumping ground for bad doctors.

“We've seen extremely dangerous doctors come to Texas,” said Wendell.

According to Texas Watch, medical malpractice is the third-leading cause of death in the United States, with 250,000 people dying each year.

“That's the equivalent of a 747 that’s fully loaded crashing into the ocean and disappearing every day,” said Wendell.

Texas Alliance for Patient Access is a statewide coalition of doctors and liability insurers.

They say the passage of these reforms has substantially reduced suspect lawsuits and liability costs, while increasing the number of doctors in the state, especially high risk specialists.

“It is true that plaintiff lawyers are now more selective in the cases that they take. And frankly that is a good thing. However, to claim that Texas law prohibits the filing of medical liability lawsuits is patently absurd. In fact, we’ve seen a recent uptick in medical liability lawsuits. Contrary to the rhetoric, plaintiffs are finding representation and they are getting compensated for their injuries,” said Jon Opelt, Executive Director of Texas Alliance for Patient Access

Texas Watch points out it's only about 5 percent of doctors who commit about 50 percent of the malpractice.

Almost four years later and Maria has had two more surgeries by another doctor, just to fix the mistakes made by the first.

“I know it is his fault. I do know that at the same time, I wish I would have never done it,” she said.

She lives with lasting wounds and scars, that may never heal.

“I wish I could wake up in my old body,” said Maria.

The Texas Medical Board tells KFOX14 Investigates it doesn't interject on the civil side, but patients can file complaints against their doctor on its website. You can also check your doctor’s history and see if they have any complaints or investigation.

They receive an average of 7,000 a year. The easiest way is to file is on the website.

Texas Watch is now working toward reform legislation in 2019.

If you've been hurt by a doctor in El Paso, call KFOX14 Investigates 834-2185.

Texas Watch Tips for Choosing a Doctor:

  • Get a second opinion before an operation.
  • Ask how many times they have performed this procedure.
  • Ask for references and check them.
  • Ask about their "complication rate" and compare it to other doctors you interview.

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