Oct. 1, 2009 -- The doctor who operated on a now-brain dead Florida woman last week did not know the spa where he performed liposuction on her was not licensed to offer the treatment, his lawyer said today.
"Dr. Brito was unaware of the licenses that were obtained by the clinic or the licenses enforced by the clinic," Brian Bieber, Dr. Omar Brito's criminal defense attorney, told ABC's "Good Morning America" today.
Rohie Kah, 37, visited the Weston MedSpa in Weston, Fla., Sept. 25, a facility the registered nurse had frequented for services such as massages and manicures, her lawyers said.
But at some point during the procedure that was scheduled to last two hours, something went "terribly wrong," Kah's lawyer, Michael Freedland, said.
"A 37-year-old, healthy mother of three shouldn't go into a medical spa for a routine procedure and come out brain dead," he said.
Paramedics who responded to the emergency described Kah as "not breathing, no pulse and unresponsive" when they arrived at the Weston MedSpa Friday.
The Weston MedSpa said it had no comment regarding Kah, but Bieber said his client has a valid license to practice medicine in Florida and that he did nothing wrong.
"Dr. Brito performed a routine liposuction procedure and, unfortunately, toward the end of the procedure, complications developed where the patient had a seizure," Bieber said.
The spa's slogan, "You deserve it, you're worth it," is listed on the site, along with offers to finance procedures for customers who cannot afford the services outright. Liposuction was not among the listed services.
"Weston MedSpa provides a personalized approach to aesthetic medicine under the care of a physician to enhance your beauty," the facility's mission statement reads.
Saving Money at 'Medical' Spas
In Kah's case, Bieber said, lidocaine, a commonly used local anesthetic, was used during the procedure.
Medical examiners have yet to say if lidocaine contributed to her condition, but plastic surgeon Dr. Jennifer Levine of New York City said the anesthetic can prove deadly if administered incorrectly.
"Lidocaine can have a direct toxic effect, depending on the dose that's injected," Levine said.
A North Carolina State University student, Shiri Berg, died in 2004 after she applied too much lidocaine cream before undergoing laser hair removal.
Doctors say more and more patients are turning to these so-called medical spas to save money, something that Kah's family says they now know is not a risk worth taking.
"The officials have said there's no hope of recovery," Freedland, her lawyer, said. "If any good can come out of this tragedy, the family hopes that other people will think twice before going to these types of facilities.
"It's just a matter of time before she's dead."
Anthony Russo, another one of Kah's lawyers, said, "Right now, she's on life support and the decision now is the family's as to whether to continue it or not."
Eulinda Smith, a public information officer for the state's health department, said she can neither confirm nor deny that a complaint has been filed against MedSpa. It is licensed as an electrology facility, she said, which covers the services listed on the Web site. Electrolysis is commonly used as a method of hair removal.
Injections given to patients would have to be administered under the supervision of a licensed doctor, such as Brito, Smith said.
Brito, according to Florida Board of Medicine records, reached an agreement with the Florida Department of Health in 2006 after admitting to helping non-licensed individuals operate an insurance fraud scheme at some other location.
Board documents show that Brito reviewed medical files and signed examinations for "medical visits and treatments that did not occur." As part of the agreement, Brito was forced to pay $5,000 in fines, take risk management courses and perform 50 hours of community service.
Florida Spa Case Under Investigation
His medical license was not revoked, according to the records.
Veda Coleman Wright, a spokeswoman for the Broward County Sheriff's Office, confirmed that the department, which responded to the call for help Friday afternoon at the spa, is in the beginning stages of an investigation regarding Kah's case.
"We're investigating her injury and how it occurred and if anyone is criminally at fault," Wright said.
For now, Kah's family is struggling with their new reality.
"We just want the whole world to know Rohie is a very sweet lady," said Oking Habib, Kah's nephew, "and those kids are without a mother."