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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. Boston_Back

    While I can understand the emotions on every-side of this issue I think we have to look past blame and make the easy changes that can improve this situation for everyone. Medical professionals, from X-ray techs, RNs, other surgeons, and primary care doctors need to step up when any suspicion of abuse is at hand. The same ideas that let high level corporate execs leave open bar parties in a high-speed powerful car after 5 martinis are putting patients at risk. If the environment can control itself, not only will patients become more safe, but those physicians with addictions will get the help they need. We can all recognize this is a disease and we all need to realize that we cannot sympathize with some people with it and not for others.

    I greatly sympathize with the man on CNN this evening who lost his wife in the reconstruction surgery. I had the same surgery that this woman had successfully. It was a very long and complicated surgery that lasted over 10 hours. The incision is hip to hip and I had this done after 2 failed reconstruction attempts. The previous attempt required 3 different surgeries in 36 hours and as a otherwise health 20 year old, left me in the ICU for 2 full days. . To call reconstructions or any surgery "routine" is false.

    The risks are immense. I'm just happy that enough dedicated and talented individuals try to solve the impossible by studying medicine and refining their skills as surgeons and researchers that this debate is even possible.

    March 31, 2008 at 11:17 pm |
  2. Erin, PA

    Look everyone messes up, but they have to pay the consequences. I agree doctors like everyone else do have a right to privacy. Doctors in the diversion program should not be allowed to operate while in treatment. Would truck and cabi drivers be allowed to drive while in treatment? Let's be honest their licenses would most likely be suspended anywhere from 90 days to a year. Perhaps, doctors can do consultations and may be towards the end of the program assist in surgery, but considering risk to human life here, I don't believe they should be allowed to do more until they prove they have their problem under control.

    March 31, 2008 at 11:12 pm |
  3. Karen

    Doctors literally get away with murder. The hospitals lawyers keep things as quiet as possible and settle out of court and the doctor just pays more for his liability insurance. It is truly disgusting. If they were nurses, they would lose their license, and if the Board of Nursing was gracious enough to allow them to practice again, they would have so many restrictions on their license they would not be able to find a job. I know that because I am a recovering nurse and have been to Treatment with several doctors. Tthe got a slap on the wrist and the nurses get the shaft. Yes, I am a little bitter.

    March 31, 2008 at 11:11 pm |
  4. Adam

    Anderson,

    I am sorry that your story tonight about "Doctors in Rehab" was so incredibly one sided and mis-informative. First, you selected one particularly bad doctor to profile. Unfortunately ther are bad doctors out there, and not all of them have alcohol problems. Second, you did not make a clear distinction between active alcoholics and those physicians in recovery. There is a BIG difference. There are many, many physicians in recovery who are spectacular practitioners. Although there may be occasional cases where these physicians slide back into active alcoholism, the vast majority maintain sobriey for the rest of their lives. The Director of the "Diversion Program" in California was correct- these programs help physicians get help and get back to work under close supervision. If a physician is in recovery, there should be no obligation to disclose this to patients, just as we don't require other professionals to disclose. These recovery progrms also raise awareness of substance abuse in the workplace and provide those around the physician recourse when they suspect a problem.

    March 31, 2008 at 11:11 pm |
  5. Susan

    Unfortunately the Medical Board protects their physicians. I know of a physician who is an alcoholic and abuses drugs. But he is able to function at a high level. For how long remains to be seen. The diversion program only works if the physician wants help. There are many who do not seek help and their colleagues turn away.

    March 31, 2008 at 11:10 pm |
  6. Frozan Walyzada, St John's Antigua

    A surgeon is rarely alone in the operating room, if those that were in the operating room knew that he was intoxicated they should have said something before it got as far as it did. I also believe that doctors should be allowed to get treatment privately but they should not be allowed to practice until they complete it. Maybe West should reread the Hippocratic Oath.

    March 31, 2008 at 11:09 pm |
  7. Sue

    I can tell you our family physician was going through a divorce in Sarpy Co. Nebraska while my son and his now ex-wife were going through theirs. I was wondering why when I would take my granddaughter into his office to log the abuse on the child from the mother when I would get the child every other weekend, this doctor would get up and leave the room and said "I don't want to hear about this!"

    I got an account at Nebraska Online and started checking into the court cases that were logged in to their files online. I found to my horror out about this doctor losing his children into foster care at the same time I am trying to do what is right to get him to log and report the abuses of my granddaughter.

    I also learned that this doctor's two daughter had been given an STD which was the same one that the doctor was stated to have had by his wife, who was also an OB/GYN physician here in Sarpy Co. Nebraska. She also alledged that this same doctor who was soon to be her ex-husband had been in rehab for over 8 years and failing miserably. Her words not mine. And the wife stated that the ex was going around writing RXs and cashing them in for Percodan his drug of choice and stealing from the samples closet, for which a nurse had been blamed earlier at the ex's office and here it was most likely him. It's ugly! And to TOP this off, the local CPS in Douglas County, Nebraska said they did a collateral investigation, yet the investigatorsassigned to my granddaughter's case DIDN'T turn these facts up. Nor did they do anything with the witnesses list for our side to protect my granddaughter. The 2 cps investigators did a very poor investigation! and for this my granddaughter still suffers because she was sent back to her abusive mother. I have pictures I can show you and YOU can show on the air. Please help me expose all this mess. The people and Nebraska bneed to know about how CPS even gave these two physicians preferential treatment when both their daughters were removed because the 2 daughters spent 2 years in foster care so there must have been something that CPS found wrong with the OB/GYN mother also. And they the CPS and GAL state that the "children had no family support network at their home". Well, you would think with the father being a family physician and the mother being an OB/GYN doctor that they off all people would know how to make a family support network for their own kids especially! What a load of crap. Tell the truth here. Tell the people of Nebraska about these injustices and that you, CPS don't know what a collateral investigation is whatsoever! Call me CNN, I will show you pictures and let you know the names and where to get your documentation for back up to your stories here. YOU could do a series on this one that would rack the Heartland. And my granddaughter could sure use your help also because the abusive mother now knows this family physicain is like this and still uses him for covering up her abuse to the child because she knows his background yet the doctor doesn't know she knows from our attorneys! Why would anyone in their right mind still use a doctor like this? It is all so sad. Email me and I will send CNN reporters my phone number and we can talk about this.

    March 31, 2008 at 11:09 pm |
  8. Joy

    Why is it that ball players (I could care less if they are under the influence) are randomly tested but doctors that I trust with my life are not? Random drug testing should be mandated as a licensing requirement for all medical professionals.

    Their "right to privacy" is second to my right to a sane, healthy, drug-free doctor!!!

    March 31, 2008 at 11:07 pm |
  9. Art

    The Medical Board of California provides public access to view a portion of a physician's professional credentials in addition to disciplinary actions issued by the Board. The web site is http://www.medbd.ca.gov/lookup.html. For example, with regard to Dr. West, one can see that he graduated from UC Irvine (and not Stanford, as was reported) and that two disciplinary actions are disclosed by the Board.

    March 31, 2008 at 11:07 pm |
  10. Boris Komrovsky

    As a physician who has worked in Quality Assurance in the past, incidents like these are unfortunate, but here's the problem. If we make all of these things public, then every interevention witn a physician becomes a legal matter. Unfortunately "proof" in these cases rarely rises to legal standards.
    For example, we have had physicians who have lousy results in a series of surgeries. We know that this shows signs of a problem, but if the physician drags in a lawyer, any INDIVIDUAL case could be looked at as a case of "it could have happened to anyone". It is only in the aggregate that a pattern emerges, and a good attorney would shred that case in front of a jury of non-physicians.
    Therefore what happens is we get together with the physician and say "OK, we know there is a problem here and if you get help and demonstrate improvement, we'll keep the whole thing off the books". Then if the physician refuses, it gets ugly in front of a judge. No one is trying to cover up here, but both sides know that if we put it on the record, in a court of law, the offending physician could win, patients would continue to get substandard care and everyone would lose.

    March 31, 2008 at 11:05 pm |
  11. bill D

    Having programs as the california diversion is a safeguard for society and a source of treatment for doctors. Alcohol and drug addiction/abuse is a disease process no different than diabetes or heart disease. Some people are more genetically predisposed to addictions. They are often times manifestations of underlying illnesses such as depression and anxiety. Simply dismissing doctors as addicts and revoking their licenses without a confidential outlet for treatment would not be helpful. You would have 100% of these doctors hiding their problems and lose the 80% that could be helped from these programs. Based on this reasoning one would have to revoke licenses of doctors will all types of treatable impairments such as diabetes, epilepsy, heart disease, near-sightedness, etc..

    March 31, 2008 at 11:05 pm |
  12. skindoc

    This was a biased and unbalanced report.

    I think its unfortunate that CNN has suggested a cause-effect link between a clearly impaired plastic surgeon and unfavorable patient outcomes. Dr. West appears to done TRAM flap reconstruction for several women. This is a technically demanding procedure that requires a certain 'type' of patient....a woman that is relatively slender and a non-smoker...for optimal surgical outcomes. These patient factors were not discussed in the report.

    The complications shown on AC 360 (ventral hernia, dehised abdominal donor site closure) are complications that have a lot to do with patient health, nutrition and body habitus. They could have happened to ANY surgeon...they did not occur JUST because West is a drunk. Why are we condemning a physician? Perhaps the poor outcomes are related to the patient factors listed above.

    If West has a drinking problem, and its impairing his judgement, than he should be treated at state expense.

    He certainly has done his part in caring for the community if he's doing breast reconstruction, a procedure with dismal insurance reimbursement.

    I'm not making excuses for this drunk surgeon. I'm making these points to let people know that they have some respnsibility to claim in their surgical outcomes...stay trim. don't smoke. if you're prescribed antibiotics post-operatively, take them, and recognize that complications happen.

    BTW I'm a plastic surgeon.

    March 31, 2008 at 11:04 pm |
  13. regina

    I am an a surgical oncology nurse that often takes care of patients who have had the tram flap or free flap ( I am assuming this is the surgery the story is commenting about although it was not named specifically.) These surgeries are complicated and results vary. It is unfair to blame post op complications such as infection on a surgeon alone. The surgeon does not operate without a circulating nurse and a scrub tech or nurse etc. Trying to say that the surgeon was not held accountable for sterile technique is an insult to the rest of the operative team. I wonder if his stats were compared to that of other plastic sugeaons in the country if they might not be similar. I am all for holding alll medical personnel accountable for safe practice, but let's be educated and fair before we make these connections.

    March 31, 2008 at 11:04 pm |
  14. Scott

    I felt the report was very scewed. There are many doctors who have acheived recovery because of such diversion programs. Addiction is a disease such as diabetes and requires chronic maintenance. Unfortunately, most doctors are not trained in the field of addicition, but one who has experienced and succeeded in his sobriety has something to offer his patients that he would not before. The numbers you briefly flashed of 80% success rate is a remarkable number that is not shared in the general population. Here in Colorado monitoring is regulated by a Colorado Physicians Health Program in conjunction with the board of medicine for the safety of both physicians and patients. It is not fair that your viewers get the idea that doctors who suffer from addicition cannot overcome and can actually become better practitioners for their experience. This does not mean that safety mechanisms must be in place. But a more fair and balanced view would have been more honest and encouraging

    March 31, 2008 at 11:03 pm |
  15. Ron from CA

    I don't understand why All Doctors don't have to have Random drug testing just like all the Comerical Drivers have to do.

    March 31, 2008 at 11:03 pm |
  16. GREG

    I HAD A DOCTOR OPERATE MY BACK - HE COULD NOT FEEL HIS HANDS AND HAD THEM OPERATED ON THE NEXT DAY AFTER HE PARALYZED ME. HE WAS ON PRIVATE AND STATE DISIBILITY TOO.

    March 31, 2008 at 11:02 pm |
  17. Jack

    I think it should be looked at more closely at exact cases whether it is prooveable that he was drugged up or drunk during a surgery. Surgery always has risks but I would think other nurses in the operating room would easily be able to tell if he was drunk or under influence during a surgery.

    March 31, 2008 at 11:01 pm |
  18. typicalwhitewoman

    George Bush had a DUI 11 yrs before Dr West. Dick Cheney has 2 DUIs under his belt (just like Dr West). People readily excuse them because society was more accepting of DUI back then. Here's the flip side – cops were more accepting of DUI back then too. Dubya and Dick must have been hammered. Probably more than double today's recently lowered limit. Report more on that, as those 2 do their dry drunk through the mideast.

    March 31, 2008 at 11:00 pm |
  19. Catherine Given

    Transportation workers like railroad engineers and pilots have to be tested, don't they? Surgeons, too, ought to be randomly drug and alcohol tested on a routine basis. The California Medical Association clearly has little control over these doctors. We need national legislation for alcohol and drug testing of surgeons.

    March 31, 2008 at 11:00 pm |
  20. Michele Young

    It is unfortunate that this has happened. I do not feel that a person's addiction(s) should be public knowledge. I feel this would drastically reduce the rate of individual's seeking assistance. Does the cashier at Wal Mart need to divulge their addictive behaviors...what about the teller at the bank? I realize that a physician has much more responsibility, but it is still THEIR addiction/difficulty/behavior. I have seen horrible results from surgeries and there was no evidence to show that the person was under the influence of anything. Our society has poor quality in every profession, regardless of one's habits/addictions. Another person's addictions/struggles are none of our concern, unless that person CHOOSES to divulge that information.

    March 31, 2008 at 11:00 pm |
  21. Julia

    as a nurse, i have worked with physicians in the operating room who are using the medications they are supposed to be giving to the patients. When caught the physicians' hands are slapped, and they continue to practice. The medical association must stop this type of co-dependency. Do not allow them to practice!

    March 31, 2008 at 10:59 pm |
  22. Roger Richards

    He should be charged with murder. How could they let him practice knowing his condition? and why?

    March 31, 2008 at 10:59 pm |
  23. cory

    I think hospitals need more over site, there is a lot that goes on there that shouldn't and this is just the tip of the ice berg, most people that work there are good and do a great job, but there are also things that go on that shouldn't

    March 31, 2008 at 10:59 pm |
  24. Jess

    Anderson's blog entry said that oftentimes, the doctors in this program can foresee when they will be drug tested. This is one problem.

    Like some have said, the problem is not the program and the problem is not having alcoholic/addicted doctors who ARE in recovery work on patients.
    It is, for obvious reasons, a problem when doctors who are actively abusing substances work on patients.

    While doctors are human and experience sickness and addiction and psychological disorders like the rest of us do, they also have a job that requires them to be more responsible than many of us. For this reason, laws may need to be put into place so that doctors are required to continue to demonstrate their sobriety through drug/alcohol testing even when they have been in recovery for years.

    March 31, 2008 at 10:57 pm |
  25. Brett

    If you people had any idea how hard physicians have to work there would never be a single critical comment of doctors.

    Imagine an environment where you must work 60-115+ hours a week without error. Many of your decisions will significantly affect another being's well being, and may alter the course of their life.

    Don't bother to comment if you don't have a degree, and don't think you have a degree (esp medical) just because you can read the Internet,

    March 31, 2008 at 10:51 pm |
  26. arezo

    If this lady is dying from cancer why is she not focused on living her life to the fullest.Instead of chasing doctors around with malparctice suites?What kind of person suspects someone is drunk and allows them to operate?Its people like this that make good qualified people turn away from medicine which is such a beautiful practice medicine is like art and people like this lady are taking that for granted.Doctors go through so much to get to where they are and than they have to deal with this B/S.CNN I have lost so much respect for your network because of this.You did not even do research about this case before airing it on national television and ruining a good doctors name. This lady should be ashmed.People don't understand how hard it is to get a license to practice medicine and how many rules and regulations you have to follow in order to keep your license and the medical board would not put up with these allegations if they were true. This lady needs to live her life because what she claims she dose not have alot of time left.

    March 31, 2008 at 10:32 pm |
  27. S

    Alcoholism is in fact a disease, not at all unlike diabetes or heart disease and is recognized as such by the American Medical Association. This and all other types of addiction are genetic and very pervasive, skipping generations in the family tree. The effects of the disease touch a very large percentage of our population. Insurance companies provide coverage for the treatment of addiction. These treatment programs are very intense and lengthy requiring the addict to often loose jobs and income in order to start on the road to recovery. There is no way that a person in a treatment program would be working at his/her job.

    The top professions most at risk for addiction problems include physicians and clergy because they practice, and are responsible for, the "healing arts". Professional associations provide impairment and treatment services with the wellness programs offered for their members.

    A recovering addict is not a practicing addict especially and is monitored closely by these professional associations, with their license in the balance. They are confidential as are all recovery programs.

    I have been effected by addiction – alcoholism – four generations back. If you were to study your family tree it will be there, even if it is an aunt or a cousin. Clearly, much more addiction education is needed. Especially before writing such erroneous information. When was the last time you got to a meeting?

    March 31, 2008 at 10:28 pm |
  28. Hope

    Mac, if doctors are merely people and have the right to abuse alcohol and drugs than we have the right to know if our doctor is abusing alcohol and drugs. What is UnAmerican is to not have the right to know if our doctor is abusing drugs and alcohol. As Americans and patients, we should have rights too.

    March 31, 2008 at 10:26 pm |
  29. Craig

    The article states that there are 8000 physicians currently in treatment for addiction. There are approximately 853,187 physicians practicing in the US today (AMA statistics 2004). Therefore less than 1% of physicians are enrolled in addiction programs, granted there may be other addicted physicians who remain untreated. These numbers don't indicate a major problem to me and such sensationalism just brings unnecessary negative attention to the field of medicine.

    March 31, 2008 at 10:21 pm |
  30. Jock

    I'm a young soon to be doctor who is also an addict in recovery. While I don't excuse any physician who is under the influence while he or she tends to a patient, being in recovery is a very uplifting process I feel will make me a better and more compassionate physician. Please CNN show the other side of the story before you create concerns in the minds of the public you claim to serve. There are thousands of addicted doctors out there doing a remarkable job. Are you going to jeopardizes their lives for a few bad apples. Fair and balanced, that's all I ask for.

    March 31, 2008 at 10:18 pm |
  31. Deborah

    Well said Mr Dog and Debbie Denham! I couldn't have said it better. I think the Doctor should find another career, I don't think he has the skill for this one.....

    March 31, 2008 at 10:16 pm |
  32. bob

    the doctors in the program are monitored and clean, it's the ones that aren't in a program that you should worry about. Dr. West was not drinking and working while he was in diversion – they stopped him from working. It was after diversion that he went out of control.

    March 31, 2008 at 10:06 pm |
  33. Renee

    From what I have read, the drug treatment of these doctors grossly lacked in accountablity. When you treat addicts, you absolutely MUST have accountability in there ALL OF THE TIME. That means that there must be random drug screening OFTEN, even if they seem to be doing so well. Addiction is a disease that has so much deceit and lying.

    There should also be MANDATORY meetings for these doctors. They should have an paper packet with spaces for dates and times for 12 step or other self help meetings. They should obtain a sponsor. That should be MANDATORY.

    These impaired professionals should walk the chalk and follow their treatment program TO THE LETTER. Of course the treatment program should be confidential. However, they should follow every rule, every regulation and be VERY compliant to the stipulations of the program or else they lose their licence. PERIOD.

    Addiction is a disease. It needs close monitoring and daily care to keep at bay with the same intensity as severe diabetes. In order to keep it in remission, you have to follow your program. You have to go to meetings. You have to stay compliant with your treatment. You have to stay in therapy. Without this, you will relapse.

    When you are a doctor, nurse, or other health professional, relapse means that you endanger others. Therefore you have an extra obligation to make sure you stay in recovery.

    March 31, 2008 at 10:02 pm |
  34. Steve

    You forgot to mention there are addicts working in nursing, in hospital administration, in car repair facilities, even in newsrooms. Lets expose and humiliate them too. Or have some compassion for someone trying to work through a serious problem. No one defends doing any kind of work on which others depend while under the influence of drugs or alcohol but why do you like to pick on doctors?

    March 31, 2008 at 10:01 pm |
  35. snoozedoctor

    This is journalism at its absolute worst. Doctors are human and can suffer from addiction like anyone else, surprise. Infection is a potential complication whenever an incision is made in the skin, and it is not, by default, malpractice. There is nothing in this article that substantiates, in any way, shape or form, that the physicians care was substandard. More information is needed. Innocent until proven guilty? We could let the scales of justice settle before we malign character, but that doesn't make for good ratings, does it?

    March 31, 2008 at 9:56 pm |
  36. Steven

    There are two completely different issues here. Is this man a good doctor? I don't think this TV special will answer that, as it seems to be a hatchet job.
    Was this surgery botched? I doubt it, as she settled. People with good cases usually want it to go to trial.
    Doctors in recovery? Of course. They are trying to get better, and these programs help them. Doctors are people too, and deserve some basic level of human respect. The judgment, vindictiveness, and nastiness on this blog is truly shocking. Why not just take every doctor who ever took a drink out and shoot them? A doctor or nurse in recovery is far less likely to show up drunk or hungover than someone drinking "socially". Usually people who have this level of nastiness need to stop drinking or using drugs themselves. Get yourselves to an AA meeting!

    March 31, 2008 at 9:53 pm |
  37. Ken

    I too am a physician and a recovering addict. Complication(s) + addiction does not equal incompetence. If you practice long enough the complication rate of any surgery or procedure, will occur. If it happens to occur with a MD with a history of addiction, it is always viewed negatively even if he is monitored and not under the influence. Random drug screens, and 800 number drug screening programs are not negoitable and a missed test is viewed as a positive test and the consequences are the same as if the test were positive. So I hope this program does justice to programs that help physcians and other medical professionals and lay people alike who find themselves in a fight for their lives with a chronic and life threatening disease called addiction.
    I would like to remind everyone, some cancer treatments may not work in all cases but we still treat. Some diabetics are non compliant yet we still manage their care. Addiction is a disease not a choice, recovery is a choice!

    March 31, 2008 at 9:53 pm |
  38. Kevin - Indianapolis

    As a member of the medical profession, I see a need for guaranteed confidentiality when it comes to physicians and treatment for addiction. The programs are imperfect and the punishments for relapses should be improved, but to try to "out" the names of physicians who have been treated or are currently being treated for addiction is a blatant violation of privacy rights.

    Where do we draw the line when it comes to addiction and its affects on one's profession? According to HIPAA, it is against the law for a physician who learns that his patient, say, a school bus driver, construction crane operator, or airline pilot, is an alcoholic or a coke addict to disclose that information without the patient's consent. Doctors are guaranteed the same rights by the physicians they visit for help with their addictions.

    It's terrible what happened to these women, but to claim that the answer is in "outing" these doctors so that patients can avoid them is just plain wrong. The answer is in de-stigmatising mental illness and those who seek treatment for it so that more physicians seek treatment for their problems. Addiction, be it to tobacco, alcohol, or an illegal drug, is a mental illness that requires medical treatment for resolution. Sure, there is anecdotal evidence that some people can get away from their addiction without help, but statistics show that over 70% of smokers, even with nicotine-replacement patches, gum, counseling, and other help, fail at least 5 times before finally beating their addiction.

    If a doctor can't beat his or her addiction, then it's time for the government or medical boards to step in and consider revoking that physician's right to practice. To consider physicians guilty and unable to perform their duties due to their addiction until proven innocent flies in the face of the constitutional rights of every person. Such thinking would ruin medical practices, cost the country much needed medical professionals, and force doctors into hiding rather than coming forward for help with their addictions. Would you rather live in a world where your doctor may be an alcoholic, but is secretly seeking treatment behind your back – or a world in which he or she is an alcoholic and has no chance at getting help because doing so would cost them their livelihood and reputation? Treating addiction takes time – and often – many attempts. It's not a one-shot deal (just look at Hollywood for examples).

    It's time to stop treating medical doctors as if they are impervious to the problems that effect everyone else. Every mistake is settled with a lawsuit or severe damage to a physician's practice and reputation. In no other profession do you have to be 100% correct, 100% of the time, and always 100% on top of every possible problem that could arise. No other profession is held to such exacting standards. Is there any wonder so many physicians turn to substance abuse for escape from the world created for them by the legal system and ungrateful patients?

    March 31, 2008 at 9:50 pm |
  39. Pete

    Doogie, they did do their homework. Like most of the media, they only broadcasted the "shock value" stuff. That's what gets peoples attention. It's the same story, different day. Unlike some of those who have commented, I do my homework before I make judgement. If this doctor smelled of alcohol, why would this lady let him operate on her. If my wife told me her doctor smelled of alcohol, I wouldn't let himor her touch my wife. Not sure this husband is being honest. The Physicians in the Diversion Program are being monitored and tested all the time. These doctors are not practicing medicine until they have succesfully been through rehab and have proven to be safe. This can take months to years. This program should be confidential because it it's not, these doctors will be threatened with blackmale. Doctors have the right to their privacy just like their patients. The Medical Board has a program to make sure these doctors get the help they need and don't allow them to work until they are ready. The Diversion Programs usually last between 3 and 5 years. They have Diversion for Doctors, Nurses, Vets, Dentists, etc. Doctors aren't going to voluntairly go into a program if they are going to be in the same boat as this doctor. Look at the attention he's received for 2 Dui's. If this doctor was truly hurting people, I trust that the Medical Board would have shut him down. No wonder I can't find a doctor. It's not worth going into medicine.

    March 31, 2008 at 9:49 pm |
  40. John

    It's amazing that we are so quick to judge. Everyone has a private life, but only as a celebrity and apparently as a doctor is it out there for everyone to judge. Doctors, too, are human, and even more so in some respects have to deal with the stress of their profession. Shame on us for judging.

    I have no problems with doctors who are compliant with programs and don't do anything illegal.

    Now, if he's under the influence while treating, that's a different story . . .

    March 31, 2008 at 9:41 pm |
  41. NP

    As a nurse practitioner, I agree with Mr Dog's post. Healthcare providers are human beings. No one can defend practicing under the influence, but if someone has been clean for a period of time, they should pose no more threat than any other provider.

    And, as someone who spent the entire weekend working in an emergency department, it amazes me that there are people on this blog that are angry that one can get a DUI by drinking 2 pints of beer or a half bottle of wine. They need to work a day in the ER if they believe that this is okay. "Regular Joes" do take other people's lives in their hands if they drive a car after drinking any alcohol.

    March 31, 2008 at 9:37 pm |
  42. SL

    This is not an isolated problem with surgeons. The rate of addiction in anesthesiologists is incredibly high (the last figure that I read rated them three times more likely to end up in a residential treatment program than other physicians). These doctos are generally addicted to narcotics, primarily fentanyl, which is said to be one hundred times stronger than morphine. Many patients of these physicians never actually meet them to smell their breathe or know anything about them. The patients must rely on them with blind faith.

    The case that I know about led a anesthesiologist through at least three rounds of residential rehab and into a training program to become a phychiatrist.

    I'm not sure which is more frightening, the actual addiction in the OR or an addict giving advice and perscriptions to people with mental health issues. The patient's problem could actually be less severe than the physician's.

    There should be a standard for physicians... ALL physicians... especialy those that hold the lives of their pateints in theis hands. Just as you would not like to have a driver, pilot, or engineer driving or flying under the influence, a physician should not be permitted to practice under the influence... and there should be serious consequences for those that do. There are innocent lives at risk.

    March 31, 2008 at 9:33 pm |
  43. B. Wilson

    A doctor entering the Diversion program first goes to a certified inpatient rehab program for 3-6 months. Then they are generally held out of work for another 3 months to a full year while submitting four random urine tests a month; going to to Diversion meetings (where they are monitored by an addiction specialist) twice a week and generally attending 4-5 AA or NA meetings a week. They also are seen regularly by a therapist. All of this is paid for by the physician in question. If they are judged to have good sobriety they might then be allowed to go back to work on a restricted schedule with ongoing monitoring and meetings for a total of five years. They have a work site monitor at work who observes them daily at their place of business.
    Without a Diversion program no doctor would seek help on their own. Only when their addiction became an obvious problem would they be reported, by others, to the Medical Board. The public is much less safe without a functioning Diversion program.

    March 31, 2008 at 9:32 pm |
  44. mac norm

    We need to stop. We need to stop accusing one person of something then generalizing it to everyone else. This practice in the United States whereby one citizen argues the point against one person then acts as if they are the voice of reason on that subject. So, it is true that the doctor had some alcohol addictions and in fact did not remain enrolled properly while serving patients. But to terminate the program because of one failure is wrong. This attitude of Americans to feel betrayed or wronged and therefore one person ruins it for the rest is costing Americans exactly what protects them in the first place. The RIGHTS of doctors are just as important as the rights of patients. People need to realize they go to doctors for help. But they MUST realize those people they trust with their lives are still just PEOPLE. They are not infallible and placing such enormous stress and expectations on anyone is absolutely unjust and incomprehensible. And quite frankly, UnAmerican.

    March 31, 2008 at 9:30 pm |
  45. Annie Kate

    What a nightmare of a story – its horrible to think about what happened to these women and others like them.

    The diversion program and its confidential nature perhaps should go a step further and bar the doctors from doing surgery until they are cured and have been that way for at least 6 months, and there should be follow up random substance testing as well. If the doctor fails his license should be revoked – after all the first vow the doctors took was to "do no harm".

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    March 31, 2008 at 9:24 pm |
  46. Dave

    As someone who is both in recovery and in a monitoring program for impaired physicians, I am extremely dissapointed in what I see.

    Alcoholism and drug addiction are TREATABLE DISEASES. Just because we wear a white coat to work doesnt mean we are not susceptible to the disease of addiction. The treatment programs do work, and god willing, we are allowed to return to our profession as rehabilitated physicians. We are sick with an incredibly complex disease that takes time to heal and treat, just like diabetes or cancer.

    Yes, it is important that we protect the public from doctors who practice medicine impaired by drugs and alcohol. I would rather have a surgeon who is a recovering alcoholic cut into me than anyone else, at least I know that he is monitored, sober, and much more compassionate for his/her perils with addiction,

    March 31, 2008 at 9:19 pm |
  47. Mary Ellen

    I think it's ludicrous to allow physicians with drug and alcohol addictions to continue to practice medicine. But then again, how many chances to kill people do we give drunk drivers? My mother was killed by a drunk driver who had been arrested five times previously, so I can't say that this story surprises me that much. Whether alcohol is a disease or not doesn't really matter to me. All I know is that my mother is no longer here, because some idiot got behind the wheel drunk.

    March 31, 2008 at 9:00 pm |
  48. Ernie

    Active alcoholics are so into denial they cannot be trusted to seek the help they need. But the people around them aren't and with doctors that's part of the problem. They know who the alcoholics among them are, but they ascribe to a code of silence. Airline personnel have begun speaking up when a pilot is impaired, getting that pilot out of the cockpit. Now hospital staff need to do the same thing where doctors are concerned. Get them out of the operating room, get them away from patients until they can prove the public is safe in their care. Everyone - including the impaired docs - will benefit that way.

    March 31, 2008 at 8:58 pm |
  49. Marc

    It's fine to say that doctors are human too, but they have far more responsibility than the average joe. They have the power to heal, and the power to kill.

    The Hippocratic Oath trumps a doctor's pride and privacy. If you can't handle the responsibility and be true to the oath and to yourself, then you shouldn't be a doctor.

    Having said that, I agree with those who say that a recovering alcoholic, after the initial detox, is not the danger. An active alcoholic surgeon IS a danger and (s)he shouldn't be allowed to practice.

    I don't know if Dr. West was intoxicated or not when he performed those surgeries, if he was withdrawing or not, or if he's just not a very talented doctor, so I can't comment on this case specifically. I just wanted to make the point that any doctor practicing under the conditions alleged in this article doesn't deserve a license let alone his / her privacy. Furthermore, regulating and policing agencies should ALSO hold the Hippocratic Oath above all other considerations, and I just don't think they do.

    March 31, 2008 at 8:54 pm |
  50. Karen

    My periodontist was a drug addict when he did a bone graft on me. I have had problems ever since. I called CNN several times.......I hope this time you will acknowledge my comments.

    March 31, 2008 at 8:49 pm |
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