March 31st, 2008
04:41 PM ET

Patients say their surgeon "butchered" them

360 tonight

Becky Anderson says she had no idea that the doctor treating her was being treated for alcoholism. Watch full report tonight on 360° 10p ET. WATCH A PREVIEW

There we were, gathered in a hotel room with about seven or eight patients who say they were “butchered” by their doctor. As they prepared to show us proof, I told myself I was ready. I had seen some of the pictures online and in some of the emails these people had sent us. But I was wrong. (Read the full story)

Nothing could have prepared me for what they revealed.

Most of these women were cut all the way around, from their back to their belly button. Their upper belly hung awkwardly over their lower belly, as if you put a belt around their midsection and tightened it as much as you could. On all of them, a deep black scar circled the abdominal area.

One woman showed me her incisions – still open and bleeding slightly, years after her surgery. That same woman no longer has a belly button.

She said she was told she would heal better from the “inside out,” so he took a scapula and cut her back open after she had complications with incisions.

Another woman showed me her lopsided breasts. One much larger than the other. One woman who couldn’t be there because she’s too sick emailed us a picture of her with a volley-ball sized ‘pouch” attached to her abdomen. She told us it holds her intestines.

As my producer, Catherine Mitchell, worked with the photographer to capture the images, I found myself having to turn away. In part, out of shock, and also out of sadness for how disfigured these people now look. They went in for plastic surgery, in most cases for breast reconstruction following a cancer and a mastectomy, and came out like this. I felt sick. I wanted to cry. They did cry...

Why, you might be wondering, did we gather these people in a Sacramento hotel room to take their pictures? Well, we also interviewed them for a story airing tonight on Anderson Cooper 360. The story is about a special program called a “Physician Diversion Program,” which allows doctors to secretly get treatment for addiction while continuing to operate on patients.

Would you know if your doctor was addicted to drugs? Would you know if he was getting treated for that addiction? Chances are you would not.

There are dozens of these programs around the country and they are completely confidential.

The patients we met say they are disfigured because of the California Diversion Program and Dr. Brian West, who treated them. Dr. West refused to be interviewed for our story, but I can tell you he is a board certified plastic surgeon in California who graduated from Stanford. His patients had no idea he was an alcoholic when he treated them.

The woman I mentioned earlier, Becky Anderson, had to forego cancer treatment while battling complications from surgery with Dr. West and now she is dying of cancer. She had no idea when she let Dr. West treat her that he had two convictions for driving under the influence, including one of them on the way to the hospital to treat her! He lied about the DUI, blaming the missed appointment with Becky on a car accident. She sued Dr. West. He never admitted any fault, but settled with her for $250,000.

In California, the State Medical Association says there are between 200 and 400 doctors in this Diversion Program on any given day. A nationwide study found about 1 percent of all physicians practicing in the United States are in confidential treatment. That’s about 8,000 doctors!... 8,000 doctors whose patients have no idea they are addicts.

Wouldn’t you want to know?

In California, the state Medical Board is planning to shut down the program as of July because it’s decided it “failed” to protect patients. Five audits of the program since 1982 found all kinds of failures. Even the drug testing of doctors wasn’t random. One auditor told me the doctors could anticipate on which days they’d be drug tested.

Still, even after all the patients who say they were disfigured as a result of this program, one powerful state agency, the California Medical Association, is fighting to keep the program running, and keep the names of doctors enrolled confidential. The association’s President, Joe Dunn, told me, “we believe very strongly this is the absolute best way to insure patient safety. We need to get physicians out of the shadows.”

Dunn believes if the program is shut down in July, doctors will still continue to feed their addiction “privately” and not get help. He argues, “Without a diversion program, no one knows. Patients don't know. Health professionals who could help don't know.”

Ken Mikulecky wants to see the California program shut down. His wife, Sharon Mikulecky, had a mastectomy after learning she had breast cancer. Ken Mikulecky says Dr. West performed breast reconstruction on his wife by using stomach muscle to rebuild her breast. He says her incision became infected and left a gaping hole in her abdomen. Just like Becky Anderson, Sharon Mikulecky had to put off cancer treatment for about a year. In 2003, cancer killed her.

The Mikulecky’s were not aware of Dr. West’s DUI convictions or that he was enrolled in the state’s rehabilitation program. When I visited with him at the house he used to share with his wife, Ken Mikulecky told me, “When that person's right to privacy hurts other people, harms other people, that should not be allowed to happen... She told me several times that she could smell alcohol on his breath… 'til the day I die I gotta live with that, and that hurts pretty good because I didn't believe my wife.”

Ken Mikulecky is convinced his wife would have had a better chance of surviving had her doctor not been an addict. Still, he says, he’s forgiven Dr. West. “That's between him and God. I got my own soul to look after. I just want him to stop,” he told me.

Mr. Mikulecky and some of Dr. West’s former patients are petitioning to have Dr. West’s license revoked.

Why is he still practicing? California’s Medical Board says Dr. West flunked out of the “diversion” program and was placed on probation. He was not allowed to practice medicine for one year but that time has come and gone. Today, his lawyer tells us, Dr. West is back in the program and has been “in recovery for years.” We confirmed he is back in business, operating on patients in Beverly Hills.

Ken Mikulecky finds that disturbing. He told me, “I don’t want to see anymore people get hurt, anymore innocent people go under the knife because people are hiding other people's addictions. I want to see that stop.”

– Randi Kaye, 360° Correspondent

Program Note: Watch Randi Kaye's full report tonight on 360° 10p ET.

Filed under: Randi Kaye
soundoff (211 Responses)
  1. Sabrina

    I can't understand why an addict, whether to prescription drugs, illegal drugs or alcohol is allowed to practice medicine, having control over the life and death of other people. Any addict like that should have his or her medical liscence instantly revoked and never again be allowed to work in this profession. This goes for MDs as much as nurses and other practitioners of the health profession. How can one trust an addict with ones health and life. All such information should be made public to all patients prior to them submitting themselves to the care of such individuals. Health care in this country is already borderline negligent, there is no need to increase the risks of patients by allowing addicts to "treat" them.

    March 31, 2008 at 8:48 pm |
  2. bethsterns

    This is amazing! First, I WAS thinking of surgery before my third child is married - a bit of face lift and mneck tuck - yet I don't know how to check out the credentials and qualifications of anyone I might talk with about the possibility. IT IS IMPERATIVE that people know how to check out their professionals– be they surgeons – plumbers - electricians. I have never been about government oversight and judgement - as the qualifiers/inspectors and testgraders can be bought - but I do have a righ5 to guess and second guess whom I might hire for any work that I would like done. How do we get there???

    March 31, 2008 at 8:44 pm |
  3. Genevieve M, TX

    I am shocked that there are people who are defending medical professionals who practice while drunk and/or high on drugs!

    Also, where is your compassion for the patients who suffered because of these medical malpractices?!?!

    March 31, 2008 at 8:42 pm |
  4. Brenda

    CNN needs to make this more well-known. I also got botched by a drug addict doctor. I would have send my photos. Will be happy to send my photos for the next epidsode. I didn't know. Neither did my girlfriend who also got botched by a doctor who lost his license in NY.

    March 31, 2008 at 8:33 pm |
  5. Steve

    As a physician and a recovering addict, I think that at least 99% of the people who watch this program will have no ability to comprehend what truly happens in situations like these. Every situation is different. I wish, sincerely, that Anderson Cooper would report on something he can understand so he doesn't taint the reputation of those who have overcome an illness and now are 100 times better than they were as a physician. So, who really is impairted here? The physician who had a problem 15 years ago and is now completely sober, or the ass who decides to try to make a good story out of something he can't possibly understand? Of course, that is unless you are an addict Mr. Cooper? Are you?

    March 31, 2008 at 8:31 pm |
  6. Doogie

    Thank you, Mr. Dog for pointing out the difference between those "under the influence" and those "in active recovery." I am an Anderson Cooper fan, HOWEVER, I believe he did not do his homework on this one...... I am terribly disappointed.

    March 31, 2008 at 8:29 pm |
  7. Mike

    Why do they have mandatory drug testing for those who work for the city or Bear Sterns but not for those performing surgery in private practices or in the hospitals? Aren't the medical associations protecting these doctors way too much? Other doctors also refuse to "Rat" out these bad doctors due to fear of becoming black balled. Happens everyday – why do u think there is such a high rate of "Failed Back Surgery!"

    March 31, 2008 at 8:28 pm |
  8. Melanie

    If you google this doctor you will find a site called standingup4truth that tells another side of the story. Diversion is a monitoring program, not rehab. Doctors aren't allowed to work while in "REHAB". Doctors in Diversion are safe. These patients claiming to be butchered because their doctor got a DUI is crazy. If their allegations were true, this doctor would not be operating. Sounds like they found out some dirt on their doctor and tried to blackmail him with it.

    March 31, 2008 at 8:22 pm |
  9. Kathy, Chicago

    Another reason to fear doctors with knives. Someone should speak up if they suspect the surgeon is shaky while operating and doctors, like other people should have to take time off if they have a problem. I think they should be held accountable.

    March 31, 2008 at 8:21 pm |
  10. Brian

    Why are these brain dead idiots allowed to be in pratice???Are they above the law or are you that hard up for Drs. that you let these people mess with our lives?????????????????????

    March 31, 2008 at 8:13 pm |
  11. Albert E

    I agree with Joe, that book, doctorhyde.net should be required reading for anyone considering plastic surgery – or drugs for that matter! This guy was once in cosmopolitan for Bachelor of the year!!!

    March 31, 2008 at 8:07 pm |
  12. EJ - Ohio

    I say this half-jokingly – but there are some doctors who would do ten times a better job 'a little buzzed' than the work some other doctors would do on their most sober day.

    Obviously those great ones are not going to admit to a problem and most of them probably do not get caught because they still can perform at great levels. They then save the vices for when they are not on call or at work.

    Don't you know how many great competent renowned people actually battle so many of these demons in private? Across so many fields.

    Obviously anything dealing with anesthesia or surgery is more critical but I don't for one second think that doctors are anywhere near perfect in this sense.

    I think patients just need to do their research – especially when choosing surgeons (and especially when choosing plastic surgeons).

    I also think that you might have a higher percentage of "screw ups" due to overwhelming doctor fatigue & pressure than due to addiction problems. Its almost similar when you compare it to driving (or operating a plane). The ones with the DUIs and DWIs obviously make the news but how many people are involved in crashes (even fatal crashes) because they were too sleepy behind the wheel.

    It's just to put things into perspective. I think I have a greater chance of being screwed over by a surgeon running on very little sleep than one who is under the influence on the job.

    March 31, 2008 at 8:07 pm |
  13. Leah Holmes

    This whole subject is of great interest to all. I dont think CNN is blaming Dr.s in general but lets face it , there are some pretty bad ones out there and how they stay in practice is beyond me. Remember, it only takes one bad egg to make the rest look bad. And if we have to give so much information for all our medical why cant the Dr.s be set up to do the same. How many people know you can go into the internet and look them up online thru their medical license number....bad thing is it doesnt tell you EVERYTHING that a patient should know...I mean who;s going to admit they have a drinking problem or whatever...I think it is the right of the patient to be aware of all complaints on a DR. so they can base their health on this and make the decision who they want operating on them. We only have one life to live why should it be at the Dr.s call...is he playing God?

    March 31, 2008 at 8:06 pm |
  14. Sharon

    I just don't get it. Once they enter the diversion program why aren't they then put on sabatical until they are clean. It's just like me going on short term disability. My work paid for a few weeks. Then the health insurance company paid my salary until I got well and returned to work. What's so hard about that. They should be put on medical health leave themselves, receive some sort of guaranteed salary for a certain period and then have to be declared sober and be supervised for 2 years. Someone needs to sue the whole system not just each doctor, for letting addicted doctors continue to treat patients. They doctors should be off on leave until they either recover or fail to recover and thus face termination.

    March 31, 2008 at 8:03 pm |
  15. Joe Johnson

    I read a book recently which brought this to light and frankly scared me to death. It is calle Doctor Hyde and can be found online by searching Google. This is about a formerly addicted surgeon in Scottsdale, Arizona and is a must read if you are considering any kind of elective surgery.

    March 31, 2008 at 8:03 pm |
  16. Carver

    This surgeon sounds like a hack. There are hacks in construction, hacks in the Presidential office, hacks are everywhere. Its a fact of life and hopefully you can win some cash out of him and pursuade other people to not use him. Which is how the world treats hacks.
    But his DUI's should have no relevance on how he conducts business. Some DUI's are just plain silly as you can get one for drinking just two pints of beer or splitting a bottle of wine with a loved one.
    Judge him by his capabilities not his DUI's.

    March 31, 2008 at 8:01 pm |
  17. Nancy

    I had a laparoscopy for infertility and endometriosis by a physician who came wild eyed to my room while I was recovering only to find out later he was in a rehab for cocaine abuse!!!!

    March 31, 2008 at 7:45 pm |
  18. APLmd

    Dr. West was clearly a poor surgeon, addict or not, and unfortunately there are physicians that have failed to take their hippocratic oath to heart ...."first, do no harm. " That said, I take my job as a physician very seriously. It is extraordinarily rare that I see a physician who does not try his/her best every day for the patients they treat. All of us went into medicine to help and to heal, and we all sacrificed large sums of money as well as those things priceless and intangible (ie seeing our child's first steps, being at every soccer game), all in the pursuit of making a worthwhile difference to the patients we serve. And despite our best efforts, sometimes we make mistakes. Other times, despite everything, some cannot be healed. I respect the anger, the pain and the disappointment that the patients of Dr. West feel. The system did fail them. But I am at the same time saddened by the sensationalist way this is being portrayed by CNN. As a few people have pointed out , for every true malpractice case or negligent physician, there are many more sued that do not deserve it, and I fear that this story will only fuel that fire. I hope that 360 will attempt to remain true to a precedent of providing fair coverage, and as such, consider an additional story regarding the problems and challenges facing today's physicians, problems that are estimated to leave our country with a shortage of 100-200,000 physicians by 2020.

    March 31, 2008 at 7:45 pm |
  19. EJ - Ohio

    "In California, the State Medical Association says there are between 200 and 400 doctors in this Diversion Program on any given day. A nationwide study found about 1 percent of all physicians practicing in the United States are in confidential treatment. That’s about 8,000 doctors!… 8,000 doctors whose patients have no idea they are addicts.

    Wouldn’t you want to know?"

    I bet there are more doctors who are in denial and/or would never admit to a problem. So then one question becomes – Would the public rather their doctors seek treatment for these issues in some way or would they rather them hide them and end up making a critical or fatal mistake?

    I'm not sure out of all of the issues of botched operations and doctors' mistakes that this represents a significant number. (Although I don't know). I'll be watching but it appears as though the biggest problem would be in areas of surgery – in particular – plastic surgery.

    I've heard so many plastic surgery horror stories. What percentage of them are addiction related? I'm not saying that its not an issue but really how significant is the issue?

    Isn't the issue more about plastic surgeons who practice that really don't have the credentials to be practicing? That seems to be the bigger issue just based on the stories I've heard and articles I've read over the years.

    How does this number (8,000) compare to overall malpractice claims and/or events? The percentage might even be thought of as acceptable considering the larger picture or considering all of the data. What do the medical experts say?

    March 31, 2008 at 7:41 pm |
  20. Davette Robinson

    excuse me...it was not actually cancer surgery. any case, if the surgery was botched than there is probably a legitimate malpractice suit.

    March 31, 2008 at 7:40 pm |
  21. JOSIE

    I fail to see why a DUI has anything to do with addiction. Or how it should effect anyones credibility. What happens outside of work should stay outside of work and is nobodies business. Plenty of credible people have been convicted of DUI's and it has had no influence on their career or how well they do there job. Lets get real here.

    March 31, 2008 at 7:36 pm |
  22. izzymommy1

    Can CNN do a story on the wonderful things that the majority of doctors do for society? Can they do a story on the hours required by medical professionals, especially residents (which would be illegal in any other hourly worker?) It seems that the media always focuses on the extremely small percentage of incompetent physicians which undermine all medical professionals. The media is not balanced, and I am extremely disappointed.

    There is a small number of incompetent physicians out there, but the majority of GREAT phyicians should not suffer as a result, which they will as a result of this media segment.

    Furthermore, the majority of malpractice cases are won in the favor of the physician, even though they do not have a jury of peers. Physicians are so regulated and expected to work for free for the better of society. They have families and children to feed also. Not to mention the insurmountable debt they incur, opportunity cost, etc. as a result of the stringent training requirements.

    The doctor portrayed in this segment probably should not be practicing medicine, but my issue is with the way CNN is clearly judging all of medical professionals by this, especially by focusing on this and not the positives. One percent of doctors are in rehab and 99% are not. Wouldn't a more balanced approach be doing 99% of stories on the wonderful things doctors do and 1% on the incompetent physicians in our society? Why does the media do this? Better ratings and more money for CNN?

    And lastly, if you put even more regulation, lack of privacy, etc. etc. onto physicians, no one will go into medicine.

    Now imagine a society without doctors????

    March 31, 2008 at 7:35 pm |
  23. Davette Robinson

    If her breast cancer surgery failed, then she may have a legitimate case for malpractice. If the doctor had been treating her under the influence of alcohol, then he should lose his license. Hands down.

    However, anybody, even a doctor, has the right to receive confidential treatment for drug or alcohol abuse. If we penalize doctors who seek help, that only increases the risk that doctors will avoid treatment and continue to abuse...even perhaps on the job.

    My heart really goes out to this family. It is overall a terrible tragedy. However, I do not believe that a doctor's right to confidential addiction treatment interferes with the rights of the patient.

    March 31, 2008 at 7:34 pm |
  24. Melissa

    I find Mr Dog and a few other comments perplexing. Would they honestly want a doctor who is an alcoholic or drug addict performing surgeries on them – recovering or not? As for the others who dismiss this as "elective surgery", the women described were fighting breast cancer and having their breasts reconstructed. I find it appalling that there are posters blaming the patient.

    March 31, 2008 at 7:33 pm |
  25. cory

    its a shame how many people are defending this, yes a person can make a mistake, but they should not be aloud to practice medicine while under going treatment, if they are allowed then the patient should be told, where are the right of the patients, they are putting their lives in the hands of the doctors that treat them and should know if the trust they are giving is misguided, nothing is wrong with treatment, but do it and do not practice while doing it, and if it occurs again then they should not be allowed to conduct a surgery, we have a lot of problems with our health care system and this should not be one, when I or anyone goes under the knife I would like to my doctors to have all his faculties and be in the best shape to pre form the surgery and if there is any reason he isn't I would like to be notified

    March 31, 2008 at 7:30 pm |
  26. Attorney Douglas Palaschak

    Drivers. Commercial pilots. Lawyers. Doctors.
    We can and should a method of testing for alcohol.
    Oh wait.. . . we have a method.
    The pilots and doctors with an alcohol problem should be required to blow into the machine upon request of the passengers and patients.
    When the regulatory agency enables the doctor to deceive the patient, then the agency should bear some of the liability.

    Here's the rub: The key is to inform the patient that the patient may want to request a breathalyzer test of the surgeon before surgery. That would chase away patients. The diversion program is obviously designed to avoid notifying the patient of something that they should know.

    March 31, 2008 at 7:21 pm |
  27. SM

    I'm a weee bit disturbed by the lack of insensitivity that some bloggers have posted here..many seem to get it..a few of you do not...as a medical professional they are held to a higher standard..when you take a human life and place it at risk with your hands..you are MOST accountable...a human body is not disposable as Mr. West treated his patients..he abandoned many without hesitation..lied and manipulated all for greed..was unclean hence the high infection rate...amputees and deaths....and those of us lucky enough to live...we are left spending thousands upon thousands of dollars in hope of a normal future..daily pain and torture without the "hope" of an end to the misery...and to be so insensitive as to suggest that he is the victim..when there are so MANY victims..is insensitive and really the blogger with a heart like this should take a moment and realize that it could easily be anyone...easily..your mother.....your child...your sister..your father...your husband..any one of you...Mr. Brian R. West isn't a rarity..he is an epidemic..and one you should really be alarmed about..

    March 31, 2008 at 7:18 pm |
  28. Chris - Ontario Canada

    I agree with Mr_Dog comments. As an 'alcholic' that has saught the AA treatment program to help completely stop my use of alcohol I have nothing but good to say about Alcoholics that are sober and care for their sobriety. Now an alcoholic that is still on the bottle we can call a drunk, and these people simply need to make the choice to stop and get help – active alcoholics should think carefully about their capacity to work in high risk professions. Alcoholics are not only those lying under a bridge with a bottle hidden in a paper bag, they number in the millions out there and there Must be and IS help out there. Read how AA started you may be very surprised at the people.

    March 31, 2008 at 7:14 pm |
  29. Jolene

    Like, Jane from Los Angeles, I'm baffled by how Dr. West continues to get patients. What Doctors are referring patients to him if his track record is so bad? Were there any patients of Dr. West who were happy with his work?

    Regardless of whether this "Diversion" program gets cancelled or not, doctors should not be allowed to practice until they have proven they have kicked their alcohol habit. Not sure what that would mean but I would hate for us to get to the point where all doctors have to pass a breathalyzer test prior to performing any surgery. Looking forward to the report.

    Jolene, St. Joseph, MI

    March 31, 2008 at 7:12 pm |
  30. Jim Smith

    As a participant in the Medical Board of California's Diversion Program, your article implies that doctors in the Program can somehow alter the date of their random urine tests. That is NONSENSE! It never happened with anyone I know.

    March 31, 2008 at 7:11 pm |
  31. TT

    Dr. West was NEVER impaired while treating patients! He wouldn't have a license today if that were true. The only reason why he has been made the poster boy is because a revengeful patient and her attorney found out that he had a DUI in 1997 and 2000. This patient lost her malpractice suit and her appeals. This patient smoked against doctors orders. She killed her belly button by smoking. She also gained a bunch of weight. If you take a pair of pants to the seamstress to be made smaller and then you gain a bunch of weight and force those pants on, what happens? You bust out of the seams. For over 5 years this revengeful patient has been solicting patients to file complaints and sue this doctor. This lady's attorney went thru Dr. West's life with a fine tooth comb. Every doctor, every nurse, every colleague that ever worked with Dr. West was diposed. They never smelled alcohol on him, they never thought he was impaired, and they all supported Dr. West.

    If you were going to have surgery and you smelled alcohol on the doctors breath, would you go ahead with surgery? Of course not! Another lie by Mr. Mikulecky.

    In all their depositions everyone testified that they never smelled alcohol on him or thought he was impaired.

    "He was not allowed to practice medicine for one year" – another falsehood. Dr. West's license was never suspended and he was never prevented from working for any period of time.

    Dr. West never butchered anyone!

    March 31, 2008 at 7:07 pm |
  32. Anonymous

    I am a recovering alcoholic, sober now for 14 years. I was lucky. Friends and family intervened when I was in my early '20's before my disease progressed to the point of no return. I work hard every day to stay sober. I am and always will be one drink away from dying. It's the disease. This doctor has this disease. I refuse to work his program. It's not my place to judge him just as it isn't anyone's place to judge my path in recovery. Obviously there are consequences to all addiction. But there is also redemption in recovery. This man deserves the same chance all of us are given by our Higher Power. I know many healthcare professionals who are in recovery and help heal people every day. In fact, because they live this disease of addiction, they know better than anyone what I need to heal my body physically and otherwise. I purposely try to find them for that reason. Christ forgave His torturers and murderers as He was hanging on the cross dying. People in recovery get that resentment is our #1 offender and work to heal those resentments and forgive. Maybe one day everybody else will figure this one out, too.

    March 31, 2008 at 7:07 pm |
  33. SM

    I'm one of Dr. Brian R. Wests butchered patients..and still living with his nightmare..and will until I am in the grave..this man needs to be put in jail..you can't drink and drive but you can drink and perform surgery..and without any consequence in CA and many other states....in the case of addicted doctors...you're on your own..sadly...

    March 31, 2008 at 7:00 pm |
  34. deep1

    I have a couple of problems with this article and everyone appears to jumping on the band wagon. if in 2000 he was going to his appointment to treat her and was arrested then he provided no treatment and was not under the influence to even treat her since he was not there for the appointment. how do you sue for negligence when he provided no treatment!

    No one is required to tell of his/her convictions or arrests unless on an employment application, so why should this be different for docs?

    I have not seen listed in this article where the negiligence has occurred due to their using! sorry for this little reality check! once a person has an addiction either using or in recovery they are always addicted – so the article title is missing leading– which is unfortunate for the addicted person. Makes them seem they should not even hold a job! There are thousands of dr, rn, pharmacists, etc that are in recovery and still practicing.


    March 31, 2008 at 7:00 pm |
  35. Tim

    This is a sad story that misrepresents a number of issues. Drs are human and have personal issues. Drs need to feel safe for themselves to get help. With proper monitoring, a doctor in recovery, can and should be able to practice medicine.

    March 31, 2008 at 6:56 pm |
  36. DHSmd

    Blaming this on the presence of a diversion program is nonsense. These poor souls were not victims because their doctor was in a diversion program, they were victims because that doctor was either incompetent or mentally ill in some other way. The descriptions sound almost like the deliberate outcomes of a criminally deranged mind – and that certainly merits investigation.

    If one wants to point fingers at the diversion program for this outrageous example, do so in the context of that program containing inadequate safeguards for assuring its participants are actually clinically competent, and perhaps for inadequate primary monitoring – not due to their insistence on maintaining the doctor-patient's privacy. Those participants who are competent and maintaining their programs do not deserve to have their careers destroyed because of the actions of this plastic surgeon.

    Furthermore, once that surgeon failed his program, that fact and his resulting punishment became public information.

    March 31, 2008 at 6:00 pm |
  37. Debbie, Denham Springs, LA

    To Mr. Dog:

    Well said and excellently written. I am also disappointed in CNN for this portrayal of physicians. I think it will cause a lot of people to respond with a generalized negative view of medicine and doctors and that simply isn't fair. Maybe CNN should do a segment on the strain that bogus malpractice lawsuits put on our judicial system. Or one about why it's hard to recruit doctors to states in this country with no malpractice cap. It's because we have become a litigious society that believes only monetary compensation will heal all wounds.

    March 31, 2008 at 6:00 pm |
  38. Mr.Suane B.Huff

    This is the reason that they should through out Tort Reform in the state of MS.Another reason is that the Docters in this state killed my father back in 1990 and then came back in 2005 and killed my mother and I had know recourse in either case because of Tort Reform.I still have documation to prove it in my mothers case,but my father just before he died said don't worry about it they just made a little mistake,I presonally don't think it was that little.You can beleive that it wasn't a little one.

    March 31, 2008 at 5:55 pm |
  39. cory

    i have familly that work at a hospital in florida that a doctor was in jail out on work release while working at the hospital doing surgery, he still works at the hospital and is a known drunk, how can they get away with that and why doesnt the hospital tell anyone or stop him, shouldnt patients know about the doctor preforming surgey on them, if people ctually knew the ins and out of some hospitals it would scare them

    March 31, 2008 at 5:53 pm |
  40. Genevieve M, TX

    Randi, you are alot stronger than I am because if I had to produce a story like that....I would have not only have sympathized, but I would also have cried with them.

    If one can be put in jail and/or lose driving privileges for DUI of alcohol/drugs, why can't medical professional who practice while "under the influence" be jailed and/or lose their medical licenses? In my opinion, both groups put the lives of others in danger and should be punished severely.

    This is a sad story, and I am sure this won't be the last time we hear of something like this happening.

    March 31, 2008 at 5:52 pm |
  41. Debbie, Denham Springs, LA

    I agree that there are many bad doctors out there, but there are many excellent ones too. I work for Board Certified Orthopaedic Surgeons and I deal with legal issues every day with these guys. I can tell you this: there are probably many well documented cases of true malpractice in this country, and the media always focuses on these. What they almost NEVER focus on is the number of bogus malpractice complaints that doctors deal with EVERY DAY in medicine that cost them thousands of dollars in legal defense. I'm not talking about what these women went through, I talking about absolute NONSENSE. And for a doctor to be tried by a jury of his "peers" – it just doesn't happen-unless all jury members are doctors.

    March 31, 2008 at 5:49 pm |
  42. Judi Smith

    Those doctors should never be allowed to do surgery again! Plus they should pay $ to the people who they have hurt! Sincerely, Judi Smith

    March 31, 2008 at 5:36 pm |
  43. Mr_Dog

    As an RN and friend to a few physicians who have battled addiction, I was unsettled by this article. Implying that a doctor is automatically dangerous or less skilled than his or her peers because of a drug or alcohol problem is both untrue and irrational. It smacks of tabloid fear mongering. The issue of physicians practicing under the influence shouldn't be confused with physicians practicing under treatment.

    Any effort encouraging medical professionals (and I include nurses here) to seek treatment should be applauded...and funded. Instilling the fear of persecution, or worse still loss of license and thus livelihood, because of a disease they cannot control, will only serve to encourage the hiding of the problem – putting even more patients at risk.

    As a society, we put a huge amount of pressure on medical professionals to be more pure than the general population, above the problems that the unwashed masses face. At the end of the day, we are just folks with jobs – like everyone else. Doctors are human, and the expectation that they be more than that only exacerbates the problem.

    It appears from the article that a) maybe Dr. West simply isn't a very talented surgeon to begin with, addiction or not, and b) the issue isn't with the diversion program itself, but the administration of the program – which I'm sure is under the influence of the "good ole' boy network" that plagues most professional institutions.

    I am disappointed at CNN for portraying this problem in the way that it did. Perhaps exposing the problems with the diversion program and vilifying the program's administrators would have been more responsible than vilifying the medical professionals who seek treatment for their addictions.

    March 31, 2008 at 5:28 pm |
  44. Joseph Kowalski, North Huntingdon, PA

    Even though the majority of people in medical fields are well qualified, the medical field has many doctors, nurses and other practitioners who shouldn't be in the field of medicine at all. Trying to find the good medical help isn't always easy. If patients have a good general practitioner MD they can trust, it's much easier finding good medical help when a medical specialty is required.

    March 31, 2008 at 5:27 pm |
  45. Ham

    I doubt elective surgery would be corrected by the feds... I could be wrong... they run the VA so well and all.

    I feel bad for these folks... there are a lot of bad doctors out there... and by the time you find out it could be too late.

    March 31, 2008 at 5:22 pm |
  46. Jane, Los Angeles

    I myself had breast reconstruction surgery after a mastectomy. I've never been happy with the results but the only failure, thank goodness, is aesthetic. I'm appalled to hear that something so routine can have such horrible results. I felt confident in my choice of plastic surgeon because he was recommended by my cancer surgeon. How in the world did Dr. West continue to get work? Did other doctors, not knowing, continue to refer patients to him? That's an alarming prospect!

    March 31, 2008 at 5:16 pm |
  47. Ham

    I'm not sure how gov regulation would have helped here.... it was elective surgery...

    Don't know if the addiction was at fault or if he was simply a bad doctor... there are plenty of bad doctors...

    If we have fed controlled medicine... expect more bad doctors... lets face it... they control the VA hospitals and I wouldn't go near one if I could help it.

    March 31, 2008 at 5:11 pm |
  48. Taj

    It is about time for prohibition on drinking, smoking & Govt waste.

    March 31, 2008 at 5:02 pm |
  49. EJ - Ohio


    I think plastic surgery in general seems to attract doctors who are many times unqualified.

    Hopefully this is a rare occurrence – as far as the addiction part goes. Is it ? ..... I guess I will find out tonight on AC360.

    March 31, 2008 at 4:56 pm |
  50. Slater

    This proves that we are human after all, no matter what career we choose.

    Closer regulation of doctors, who are spinning out of control with ownership and incorporation of hospitals and pharmaceutical companies, may help this. Or not. Especially if it is regulated by the government.

    If you look at reports of doctors that are sued for mal-practicing medicine, it is alarming. Unfortunately, like all of our affairs, we deal with such knowledge in hindsight, or reactively, rather than pro actively.

    We are really are lazy fat cats here in America. We put way too much faith in a system that does not work and has not worked for decades, asserting that "it can never happen to me."

    March 31, 2008 at 4:55 pm |
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