Who’s doing your plastic surgery? What every patient should know before going under the knife

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(WRIC) — Do you want to look firmer, tighter, curvier? You’re not alone. Millions of Americans are going under the knife each year to better their bodies.

But how much do you really know about the doctor performing your surgery? Did you know a gynecologist can perform a facelift? A dermatologist can do a tummy tuck? 

Virginia law allows any doctor to perform plastic surgery. If you Google plastic surgeons in Virginia and more than 30,000 results pop up.

Yet, not all doctors are created equal and Chesterfield resident Laura Jones learned that the hard way.

“I just googled tummy tuck,” Jones said. “I am lucky I’m here.”

The Chesterfield resident went in for a tummy tuck that almost took her life.

Jones has had three kids, her last child was a c-section and it took a toll on her stomach muscles. She also had lost about 100 pounds and was looking to get rid of some of the excess skin.

The tummy tuck surgery was outpatient and performed right in the doctor’s office.

“During the procedure, I woke up in the middle,” Jones recalled. “The doctor said give her something quick.”

That probably should have been the first warning sign but then a few days later she started to not feel well.

“My chest was hurting and I thought I had a cold, like pneumonia feeling,” Jones said.

When her doctor wouldn’t answer her calls, she rushed to St. Francis Hospital.

“They said I was really sick and they had to do surgery again,” Jones said.

Jones was septic, her body trying to fight a life-threatening infection.

“She has a huge amount of infection,” Doctor Neil Zemmel said.  Zemmel is a board-certified plastic surgeon 

He was pulled from another surgery attend to Jones botched job.

“She could have very easily died,” Zemmel said.

It turned out, despite all kinds of certificates on the doctor’s wall and a crowded waiting room, Jones doctor was not one of 232 practicing or retired Virginia doctors certified from the American Board of Plastic Surgery. 

“It is possible to be a doctor of a number of specialties and to take weekend classes or short courses to learn how to do liposuction or body contouring,” Zemmel explained.

Dr. Zemmel and the Virginia Society of Plastic Surgery is pushing for a “truth in advertising” resolution.

The resolution would require doctors to reveal what they’re certified in.

“I think it is critical if you are going to undergo surgery and cosmetic plastic surgery that you pick a surgeon who is board certified, board certified in plastic surgery,” says Zemmel.

Dr. Zemmel told 8News that means after medical school, the doctor has had at least six years of an accredited plastic surgery residency and is continuing education.

“I think transparency is very important,” says Dr. Joe Niamtu. He is a cosmetic facial surgeon, who has won all kinds of awards and even written textbooks about cosmetic surgery.

He agrees that doctors should reveal their specialty but he doesn’t believe you have to be a plastic surgeon to get good results.

“Just because someone is a plastic surgeon doesn’t mean they are well-versed in plastic surgery,” Niamtu said.

Niamtu said there’s been a boom in cosmetic surgery with lasers, botox and other tools allowing doctors to perform procedures that were previously unknown.

“Many of these advances were from non-plastic surgery specialties dermatologists, oral maxillofacial surgeons, OBGYN,” Niamtu explains.

One thing both doctors seem to agree on is patients need to do their homework and ask questions.

8News has listed a couple of questions to ask your doctor below.

  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?
  4. Are you board certified? In what? For how long? (Remember that certifications expire and “professional members” may sound impressive, but often denote only an annual membership fee and attendance at a conference or earning continuing education credits.)
  5. Do you have hospital privileges for this same surgery?

“I think patients need to drill down a little harder and ask what is there board certification? What is there training?” Zemmel said. “Their experience, their safety, their training, and their outcomes are going to tell the story,” Naimtu said.

Jones sure wishes she did. She believes it could have avoided a lot of pain.

“I spent 11 days in the hospital,” she told 8News.

Jones needed three more surgeries after that tummy tuck just to get back on her feet.

The Virginia Society of Plastic Surgery will re-introduce the truth in advertising resolution during the General Assembly session next year. 

Patients can research doctors here.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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