Faked Surgeries Are Rare but Hard to Spot

Morgenthaler said if you've done your homework, getting a second opinion isn't always necessary for routine procedures but he stressed that patients need to take responsibility for their own medical care by carefully reviewing medical records and asking questions until they are confident they understand test results and diagnosis. Patients should red flag any discrepancies between a condition and the surgeon's recommendation before proceeding.

Morgenthaler added that a good surgeon takes the time to explain exactly what the patient is consenting to have done before a surgery. After the surgery, the surgeon should explain to the patient or an advocate what procedures were performed and offer insight into the recovery process. If the surgeon is unwilling to communicate these things or explain why a recovery isn't going as planned, that's the time to seek a second opinion, Morgenthaler advised.

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As for Alteiri's alleged faked surgery, Dr. Howard Luks, the orthopedic surgeon who said he discovered it, said it was a bone that initially gave it away.

"The surgeon's notes said that he had removed two centimeters of bone in both of the surgeries. This particular bone doesn't grow back and I could plainly see that no bone had been removed," he said.

Luks also said he wasn't entirely surprised by this discovery. He said he'd already seen more than a dozen former Panos patients who were supposed to have had certain procedures performed but clearly had not. In some instances, Luks said hardware or sutures that should have been in place according to medical records and plainly visible on X-ray or at revision surgery, were missing.

There are more than 261 civil lawsuits pending against Panos, Dutchess County, N.Y., Supreme Court documents show and there is an ongoing criminal investigation by the state though Panos has not been charged. Panos and his legal counsel declined to comment on any allegations against him to ABC News. Charles Rock, Altieri's attorney said that Panos has responded to the lawsuit and has denied all allegations. Should the case go to trial, Rock and JT Wisell, an attorney for 154 of the plaintiffs, each said they planned to call Luks to testify as a "subsequent treating physician."

If proven true, the Panos case is extreme but not the only recent example of a doctor performing phantom or needless surgeries. Indiana plastic surgeon Dr. Mark Weinberger was convicted of fraud earlier this year after subjecting more than 280 of his patients to unnecessary or phantom surgeries.

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Altieri said her shoulder still hurts but she's chosen not to have any additional surgery. And, although Panos also performed two knee replacements and a hip replacement on her, she has not had those joints reevaluated.

"I almost don't want to know if there's anything else. But I hope no one else ever has to go through this. To have such love and confidence for a doctor and then he does something like this, it kind of rips your heart out."

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