South Florida is a popular destination for plastic surgery, but recent cases involving patient injuries and even deaths have exposed the risks patients can face.
Doctors told Local 10 News when it comes to going under the knife, some doctors are not always what they seem.
Courtney Richel-Howie told Local 10’s Amy Viteri she got her first breast augmentation in 2005 at Strax Rejuvenation Center in Lauderhill.
She said she chose the clinic in part for their affordable rates, but two procedures left her with implants so large her breasts were disfigured, with stitches that weren’t holding.
"The tissue under the first layer of skin is coming out of my breasts," she said.
She said Dr. Roger Gordon offered to stitch her back up but nothing further. For years she said she dealt with back pain and was unable to wear certain clothing because of visible marks from her surgery.
"It was horrible," she said. "They looked horrible."
Though Richel-Howie didn’t know at the time, Gordon had already been disciplined by the state and sued over patient deaths while he worked at a previous clinic.
At Strax, records show the discipline and lawsuits continued over patients who suffered complications or died.
The CEO of Strax Rejuvenation Jeff Davis spoke with Local 10 News by phone. He said the center terminated its relationship with Gordon around 2010 following the death of another patient.
Since then Davis said the center has had fewer incidents of issues involving patients and works with doctors with the best qualifications.
In June of this year, Richel-Howie, now a mother of two, finally had her breasts repaired after several more botched surgeries.
She saw board certified plastic surgeon Dr. Adam Rubinstein, who warns when it comes to a doctor’s qualifications, looks can be deceiving.
"Most of the time what's being presented to you is at best misleading and sometimes just a bold-faced lie," Rubinstein said.
The doctor has often posted on social media, answering patient questions and calling out doctors he says misrepresent themselves and their backgrounds.
The question he says patients should ask: Is the doctor board certified in plastic surgery? Here’s why: Florida law allows any doctor to do any procedure as long as they have a patient’s permission.
"Your pediatrician, your gynecologist, they could call themselves a cosmetic surgeon and there's nothing illegal about it," he explained. He says the term "cosmetic surgeon" is not an actual resignation recognized by any of the American boards of medical specialties.
A quick search online turned up plenty of so-called cosmetic surgeons who have little to no training in plastic surgery. On the Strax website at least one doctor listed as a plastic surgeon is actually a general surgeon with a background in hair restoration, a a history of probation by Florida’s Department of Health.
After Local 10 pointed that out, Strax updated their website so the correct description was displayed.
"Really it's caveat emptor buyer beware," Rubinstein said. "Unfortunately a lot of buyers don't know how to beware the right way."
In June, Local 10 News reported on the death of a 30 year-old mother named Lattia Baumeister who underwent a procedure known as a Brazilian Butt lift.
Her doctor Osak Omulepu’s license had been revoked two months prior by the Florida Department of Health. But a judge ruled he could continue operating while he appealed the revocation. Records show Omulepu is not board certified in plastic surgery.
"I think the Florida board of medicine has gotten more aggressive in investigating," Rubinstein said. "Unfortunately it's come at the expense of a lot of people's health and unfortunately recently, a number of people's lives."
Gordon surrendered his medical license in 2014. He was arrested in 2012, charged in the notorious "Pill Street Blues" federal crackdown on pill mills in Florida. Richel-Howie said she hopes her long journey helps educate the next patient.
"You're thinking, 'Oh it's plastic surgery you're going under the knife,' Yeah but you might not wake up," she said. "You might not wake up."
According to a Department of Health spokesperson, Osak Omulepu is still appealing the decision to revoke his license.
Anyone interested in learning more about a doctor’s background and qualifications can use several websites:
- The Florida Department of Health to verify a doctor’s license and research disciplinary history
- The American Board of Medical Specialties to learn if the doctor is certified in a particular area.
- The American Society of Plastic Surgeons
- The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons to locate a doctor specializing in aesthetic procedures.