Oregon Doctor Charged in Patient's Death From Botched Tummy Tuck

Doctor attempted to remove hanging skin and fat from friend's abdomen.

ByABC News
August 29, 2012, 10:36 AM

Aug. 29, 2012— -- An Oregon doctor has pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a manslaughter charge in the death of her friend on whom she'd performed a tummy tuck. The friend experienced "seizure-like activity" hours after the surgery at the doctor's clinic, according to the Oregon Medical Board, and died four days later.

Dr. Soraya Abbassian, 44, also faces a misdemeanor reckless endangerment charge that stems from a tummy tuck she'd performed on another friend to which she also pleaded not guilty.

A grand jury indicted Abbassian Monday on one manslaughter charge and one misdemeanor charge of reckless endangerment.

The Oregon Medical Board ruled that Abbassian, who practiced internal medicine and was not a surgeon, did not have adequate backup -- including support staff, equipment to monitor vitals or a crash cart, which would have had resuscitative drugs, oxygen and a defibrillator -- in the event her patient suffered distress during the procedure.

"This case illustrates just what can happen without adequate personnel or supplies," Kathleen Haley, executive director of the Oregon Medical Board, told ABCNews.com.

On Dec. 15, 2010, Abbassian performed a tummy tuck on Judith Desmarets, 59, who was her friend and employee, according to a complaint filed by the Oregon Medical Board in Multnomah County District Court.

Shortly after Abbassian administered anesthetic, Desmarets complained of chest pains and shortness of breath, Haley said.

"[Dr. Abbassian] ended up having to leave the room and call 911. In that call she was very distraught," Haley said.

By the time paramedics arrived, Desmarets was not breathing and did not have a pulse, according to the court complaint.

Desmarets never regained consciousness and died four days later at Portland Adventist Medical Center.

The medical examiner ruled Desmarets died of inadequate oxygen supply to her brain tissue.

Abbassian's license was suspended on Dec, 23, 2010, Haley said.

Haley said this was the first case in her 18 years at the Oregon Medical Board that she could remember a doctor facing criminal charges relating to medical care.

"The essence was she was really trying to help people, and do it as a friend, but obviously, one has to have professional judgment and training for this sort of thing," Haley said.

Dr. Stephen Greenberg, director of New York's Premier Center for Plastic Surgery and author of the book "A Little Nip, A Little Tuck," said he uses a board certified anesthesiologist and does not administer the drugs himself. Abbassian administered the anesthetic on the patient herself, according to court documents.

Tummy tucks can be done in an accredited office environment but only with proper patient selection and proper training, Greenberg said.

"You want to make sure your cosmetic surgeon is a board certified plastic surgeon," he said. "Unfortunately in this country, a lot of people call themselves cosmetic surgeons who are not necessarily trained in plastic surgery."

Messages left for Abbassian and her attorney were not immediately returned.

She was released from the Multnomah County jail Tuesday, after posting $50,000 bail.

Abbassian's next court appearance is set for Oct. 18.