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LESSONS LEARNED FROM THE DONDA WEST TRAGEDY
by Lois W. Stern

When selecting a plastic surgeon, be sure to separate the sound from the noise

The Donda West(1) tragedy brought us up short, first because this death happened to someone of celebrity status, and second because it was an unnecessary death - a death caused at least in part by poor medical judgment.

As my West Coast Beauty Expert Partner so aptly reported, California has passed a bill requiring patients to receive a physical exam before plastic surgery. That’s great, but did you know that it has already been the Standard of Care in most states, at least for cases involving a general anesthethia? The problem is that Donda made some poor choices in selecting her surgeon. Let’s look very carefully at what went wrong and what the rest of us can learn from her mistakes:

When selecting a surgeon, you need to inquire about the doctor's training, experience, and *expertise*. In regard to this first prerequisite, training, here is Step one: *Be sure you have selected a board certified plastic surgeon or a board certified head and neck surgeon. In either case, he should have received further fellowship training in cosmetic surgery*.

I called the ABPS (American Board of Plastic Surgery - (215-587-9322) - to inquire as to whether Donda West's surgeon, Dr. Jan Adams, is in fact a board certified plastic surgeon. He is not. Next I called the ABMS (American Board of Medical Specialties - 1-847-9091) - to inquire about his board certification. The only such physician the ABMS has on record, Dr. Jan Thatcher Adams, is board certified in Family Medicine. If Donda West had only made those two phone calls, she very well might have saved her life.

LESSON #1: I cannot stress this strongly enough. ANY board certified doctor, in any field of medicine, can legally perform plastic surgery and call himself a cosmetic surgeon.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Be sure you have selected a board certified plastic surgeon or board certified head and neck specialist.

Now let's look at that second prerequisite, experience. I do not know how many cosmetic surgeries Dr. Adams has performed. But I do know that his history of experiences with those surgeries sends up some immediate red flags. In 2001, according to medical records from the state of California, two malpractice lawsuits were filed against Adams, ending in payouts of close to half a million dollars. Prior to the Donda West tragedy, three new, unsettled medical malpractice lawsuits were pending against Dr. Adams. If only Donda had called the California Medical Records office, she very well might be with us today.

LESSON #2: Check out any prospective surgeon's history by calling the medical records department of your state. The following website lists the telephone number for each state: [Link Removed]

Let's move on to that third prerequisite, expertise. It is not difficult to surmise how Donda West selected her surgeon. Adams had appeared as a plastic surgery 'expert' on numerous national TV shows, including Oprah, CNN, Entertainment Tonight, and Discovery Health, to name a few. I congratulate his PR agent for doing a phenomenal job. But great hype does not a great surgeon make. Expertise does not come from appearing on TV. Admittedly, researching a doctor's expertise can take a bit of digging and you need to know what questions to ask.

Here is one important one:
Does the surgeon's initial fee include revision surgery, if it becomes necessary? (Reputable surgeons normally include revision surgery in their initial fee.)

Adams had tipped his own hand when he told Dr. Phil that Cosmetic Surgery has become so competitive that he has had to lower his prices and now finds that many patients cannot afford the revision surgery needed for the best result. This is an outrageous explanation for his own lack of expertise!

LESSON #3: Learn to separate the sound from the noise. Ask your prospective surgeon if his initial fee covers any revision surgery that might be needed. But don't stop with this first question. You should get clear answers to a number of important facts before you sign on the dotted line.  

Heed the words of Dr. Rohrich, former president of the ASAPS and a member of their Innovative Procedures Committee:
“Most women spend more time selecting a pair of shoes than selecting a plastic surgeon. You can take back your shoes, but you can’t take your face or your life back.”

Look for a surgeon who will treat your body with the utmost care, caution and respect. You deserve no less.

Addendum: A Word About Cosmetic Surgery and Safety

It is true that statistically cosmetic surgery procedures have a strong safety record, but you need to heed some cautions. In a study evaluating the safety of accredited office based surgical facilities, only 1 death occurred in 58,810 surgical procedures, but there is one important caveat to that study that should not be overlooked: ALL OF THESE PROCEDURES WERE PERFORMED IN OFFICE SURGERY FACILITIES ACCREDITED BY THE AAASF.

While in the process of writing my book, I had interviewed Dr. Keyes, the leading surgeon of this study. He explained that each surgical facility accredited by the AAAASF mandates that a) the doctor be board certified in the medical specialty recommended for that procedure and b) that the doctor has been granted privileges to perform those same procedures in the hospitals with which s/he is affiliated. Again, remember to DO YOUR HOMEWORK.

Here are just a few of the life saving questions Donda West should have asked before engaging Dr. Adams:

  • What is your board certification?
  • Is the facility where my surgery will take place an accredited facility? If so, by whom?
  • Who will administer my anesthesia? Is this person a board certified anesthesiologist? If not, what are his credentials?
  • How long will I remain in this facility after my surgery?
  • When I do come home, should I engage the services of a nurse to care for me?
  • What are the risks to having three major procedures performed at on time? Would it be safer to have one or more of these surgeries performed separately?
  • One plastic surgeon I consulted was concerned that I might not be a good candidate for these surgeries due to my medical condition. How can I be assured that I will be safe during and following surgery?

1. Donda West is the mother of the rapper Kanye West.
2. See the NEW Sex, Lies and Cosmetic Surgery CD - Section How to Select a Surgeon - subtopics: “Get Answers to These Questions Before You Schedule a Consultation” and
“Get Answers to These Questions During a Consultation” for more sound advice.

You have my permission to reprint this article in part or full providing it contains the following attribution:
Lois W. Stern is the author of Sex, Lies and Cosmetic Surgery, (Infinity, 2006), republished in a revised edition in 2008 with a CD enclosure."

Lois invites prospective cosmetic surgery patients, physicians, and media to visit her website to read other articles and/or sign up for her monthly newsletter by selecting ARTICLES from the top navigation bar.
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