The story sounds almost too bizarre to be believed. A man posing as a physician's assistant performs a cut-rate liposuction on a woman who is awake but anesthetized. He asks her to hold her IV bag while he works, all the while smoking a cigar. A few days later, he shows up at her house with 6 pounds of her fat and, telling her he needs to dispose of it, flushes it down her toilet.
Reported first in the San Francisco Chronicle, this account was what city prosecutors allege happened to an as yet unidentified woman and led to the Thursday arrest of Carlos Guzmangarza, 49, on a litany of charges.
Messages left Monday, a federal holiday, with the San Francisco district attorney's office and the Medical Board of California were not immediately returned. But according to the story in the Chronicle, prosecutors allege that Guzmangarza stole the identities of a physician and a physician's assistant, which he used to operate a bogus clinic. Prosecutors said he charged only $3,000, and that he also gave the patient's daughter a series of injections he said would help treat her acne.
According to the story, prosecutors said it was only when the woman who received the liposuction experienced an infection in her abdomen that she saw a real doctor and learned that she had been swindled.
The Chronicle reports that Guzmangarza's bail is set at $750,000, and he faces up to 12 years in state prison if convicted of the charges against him.
The story is only the latest in a series of high-profile reports of illegal cosmetic procedures. In November, police arrested a practitioner in Miami and charged her with "boosting" women's buttocks by injecting them with a dangerous mixture of cement and Fix-a-Flat tire sealant.
In February, a 20-year-old British woman named Claudia Aderotimi died following a cosmetic buttocks injection administered in a Philadelphia hotel room. In January, Whalesca Castillo, an unlicensed practitioner in New York City, was arrested for running an illegal business out of her home injecting women with liquid silicone in the buttocks and breasts. And in 2010, a Miami woman, Ana Josefa Sevilla, was charged with a similar crime after one of her clients ended up in the emergency room with complications.
"Unfortunately, nightmare stories about bogus plastic surgeons like this are becoming more and more common," said Detroit plastic surgeon Dr. Tony Youn, who added that prospective patients in minority communities are often the ones who fall victim to illegal practitioners.
"These bogus docs often prey on minority and non-English speaking groups, where the knowledge of board-certification may not be as widespread," he said.
Youn said these clinics are often hidden in small storefronts in urban areas, making it even more difficult for local law enforcement agencies to crack down on illegal practices.
Considering how common bogus practices may be, Dr. Garry S. Brody, a professor emeritus at the division of plastic surgery at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine, said patients should take steps to protect themselves against unscrupulous practitioners. Specifically, he said that prospective patients should feel comfortable asking doctors to show their credentials and to ensure that they are board certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. Additionally, he suggested that those considering cosmetic surgery call their state medical board for licensure information and any disciplinary actions and the ABMS to confirm certification.
"The old saying 'You get what you pay for' needs the additional caveat in these circumstances that you may pay much more in pain, suffering and additional medical costs," Brody said.
And Youn said an important step in addressing the problem is for the medical community to step up efforts to educate the public about the importance of board certification when it comes to choosing a plastic or cosmetic surgeon.
"We need to inform patients to choose plastic surgeons who are truly certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery and a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons," he said. "This information should be presented in other languages and on non-English speaking media as well. Patient education is key, as well as informing bogus practitioners … that there are very stiff consequences to performing unlicensed surgery."