Unqualified plastic surgeons: Loophole in Va. law lets any doctor perform plastic surgery

(MGN Online)

LYNCHBURG, Va. (WSET) -- Tummy tuck by a family doctor? Face-lift from your gynecologist? It's happening.

A loophole in a Virginia law lets any doctor perform plastic surgery on you.

"It was embarrassing," said Supen Bear, who woke up from her plastic surgery and couldn't open her eyes.

Two years later, her right eye still won't open. That's why she now uses tape to hold her eyes up, otherwise she wouldn't be able to see.

"I don't know what to do," she said.

Bear went to a surgeon in Fairfax County to have fat removed from her eyelids. Her attorney, Gary Mims, says the surgeon who performed the procedure wasn't qualified and cut a muscle in her eye, leaving it permanently damaged.

Laura Jones is dealing with a similar issue.

She says the doctor who did her tummy tuck wasn't even a board certified plastic surgeon, nor did he have access to a hospital and Jones even woke up in the middle of her surgery.

"And one said 'Oh my God', she woke up...give her something. And then I went back out," she said.

But, it gets worse from there. Jones also got a serious infection during her tummy tuck procedure.

"She was very sick, she could've died," said Dr. Neil Zemmel, a certified plastic surgeon.

Dr. Zemmel helped to treat Jones after her botched job. That's why he says it's important to find a surgeon certified from the American Board of Plastic Surgery. It means the doctor has six years of an accredited plastic surgery residency.

It also means they passed the boards from the American Board of Plastic Surgery, and the doctor submitted actual patient cases for review.

Right now, there are 230 American Board of Plastic Surgery doctors practicing in the state of Virginia. But, a quick "Google" search pulls up hundreds more, meaning many of them may not be qualified to do your plastic surgery procedure.

Dr. Zemmel says some doctors can also take weekend courses and get certificates to hang up in an office. This can put a patient's mind at ease and, sometimes, it works.

"You're walking in seeing the certificates on the wall. You don't know," Jones said.

But, there is a plan in place to help. A group of Virginia doctors is putting together what's called a 'Truth in Advertising' resolution to help bridge the gap for this legal loophole. It would require surgeons to advertise their specific board certification.

That way, patients know if the doctor is qualified.

"I think it will allow patients, if they are going to someone for surgery, what their training is really in," said Dr. Zemmel.

For Jones, she knows she can't change the past, but with stronger state oversight, she's hoping things could be better in the future.

"Because if that happened to me, it could happen to somebody else and maybe someone else couldn't handle it, or get to the hospital in time," she said.

The 'Truth in Advertising' resolution hasn't been presented to lawmakers. But, Delegate Scott Garrett, who is a doctor, says there's a lot more to this. He says you would first need to define exactly what procedures are considered plastic surgery. Then, break things down from there.

So for now, Dr. Zemmel says a good tip is to remember to ask three questions before you make the commitment to plastic surgery:

  1. Will the surgery be done in an accredited hospital or surgery center?
  2. How many of these surgeries do you perform in a year?
  3. Are you board certified in plastic surgery?
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