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. CW


    First of all we must need to be clear on a few things here, #1, a doctor should of course be held responsible for any LEGITIMATE botchery performed whether under the influence or not! From the sounds of it, this doctor may just not have not been a great surgeon and it could have nothing to do with his alcohol problem. #2, you cannot throw the baby out with the bath water, i know many many incredible human beings that i would absolutely trust with my life who are RECOVERED or RECOVERING alcoholics, unless you know someone personally or have professional experience in this area, you really cannot make a credible judgement! #3, Doctors are people too, who have problems and struggles in their lives, noone is perfect, and while to some degree they should be held to a higher standard than maybe your average joe, they should still be given every bit of a chance to make the right choice and seek help and be treated like just like everyone else!!!

    Finally, I do feel horrible for the people he may have harmed while a practicing alcoholic, there is no excuse for it if Dr. West indeed was operating under the influence, but like many have said before and please try to understand this, there is a HUGE difference between someone who is actively in addiction or substance abuse and someone who has been sober for say 10 years or even someone who as been sober for 2!!! You simply cannot turn this into a one size fits all model, it is completely irrational and totally untrue!!!

    To the doc's in recovery, keep it up, you know the truth and know how lives can be completely transformed in recovery!!! The public needs to know this too though, you guys are probably the best doc's out their and able to sympathsize 10 fold more with your patients!!!

    April 1, 2008 at 12:57 am |
  2. Shelley

    To all those defending these doctors: Let me ask you a question. Would you get on a plane if you knew the pilot was an addict? I didn't think so. This is the same issue. Well, maybe it's a little different – here the addict can only kill one person at a time instead of hundreds.

    April 1, 2008 at 12:56 am |
  3. standingup4truth.blogspot.com

    Another one sided story. Dr's shouldn't have to make their personal life public to their patients. Medical records are confidential. Maybe patients should have to disclose if they have ever sued anyone. Doctors should have a choice not to take a patient who is sue happy.

    April 1, 2008 at 12:53 am |
  4. a voice

    We all know that drinking and driving is a problem and that drugs, alcohol, and practicing medicine is a deadly mix.
    In the past 27 years the California Medical Board FAILED 5 audits in their operation of the Diversion program. They didn't pass one. The Medical Board is responsible for their failures. And yet they have no consequences. They still have their jobs–yet patients have lost their lives. And doctors have been offered a compromised program. Where are the lawyers when the people of California need them? If this is how the California Medical Board operated the Diversion program what is happening in the other programs that this Board is charged to monitor? How safe are the patients they represent?
    Informed consent is law. Patients are to be informed of what is going to happen in their surgery. Often they are not aware of who is actually performing the surgery and what condition this person is in.
    What is the CNA afraid of? If it's truly okay for doctor's to practice and operate while in the Diversion program just inform the public. Let each patient choose for themselves who they want to trust with their lives. If the CMA is correct in their statement–the truth should not affect the doctor's patient load whatsoever.

    April 1, 2008 at 12:49 am |
  5. Linda Starr

    The report by Anderson Cooper was very understated.
    Dr. West who lied about his own credentials to patients, was a charming, confident physician who was highly recommended by other physicians.

    In my case my oncology surgeon highly Dr. West. I asked the right questions, and was assured he was one if not the best doctors to perform a tissue reconstruction following my mastectomy. The same doctor who referred me to Dr. West later treated me like a leper who would not touch me and said I was Dr. West's problem and she would no longer see me. That was a common scenario for several other patients I spoke with.

    Dr. West is only one doctor - because of the secrecy it is virtually impossible to find about others. I have, however, learned that there are many more. Early in 2008 I learned from a rehab center in Los Angeles that it has been a common policy for them to receive doctors from the diversion program after adverse surgeries resulting in harm to patients have been discovered.

    There are a couple blogs stating that the doctors in diversion are removed from practice, and monitored closely by competent assistants. That is NOT

    April 1, 2008 at 12:48 am |
  6. charles geerhart

    Debbie of Denham Springs says this is all about frivolous medical malpractice litigation. We hear this BS from the medical lobby every time they're under fire. Doctors basically want complete freedom from any liability even when they kill or maim people. I've had it with this privileged elite class claiming they better than the rest of us and don't have to be liable for their errors.

    Chuck Geerhart JD
    San Francisco

    April 1, 2008 at 12:36 am |
  7. standingup4truth.blogspot.com

    For over seven years, Doctor Brian West has been a target and victim, suffering attack after unwarranted attack from those with neither shame nor conscience. Dr. Brian West is a great man, a wonderful and talented doctor, father, husband and friend. The stress and pressure he has endured and continues to withstand would crush most other men. Read the standingup4truth website.

    April 1, 2008 at 12:36 am |
  8. Charles

    Here's a doctor in Phoenix who has been busted 3 times. I reported him to his hospital, his medical director and the Arizona Medical Board for several years. You ask why. Because he killed someone who I love dearly and they covered up for him. They enabled his continued substance abuse. They knew all about it. His name is Dr Abraham Sayegh and works at Paradise Valley Hospital in Phoenix Arizona. Go to the Arizona Medical Board webpage, click doctor search, type in his name, look at his profile. They finally did an emergency suspension to finally protect the public. See the 3/7/08 press release, unbelieveable. Look at the PDF files under his profile. He's been an addict for 20+ years, going back to the state of new york. The hospital who covered up for him is owned by Morgan Stanley the investment banker. The hospital covered up cause it's bad business. How many people died in the past several years. How many people died prior to the loss of my loved one? Nothing was done to prevent harm. The hospital did everything they could to shut the family up. To keep them from talking. Dr Abraham Sayegh is a pprime example of why it should be a one strike your out policy. Families of the elderly at Ridgecrest nursing home, protect your loved ones.

    April 1, 2008 at 12:29 am |
  9. Dr. Rad


    I'd also like to call your attention to a movement that is rapidly growing across the country. It's called FAVOR (Faces And Voices of Recovery). As one of their basic tenants, FAVOR promotes and advocates recovery by citing the POSITIVE examples of people who have 'conquered' their alcoholism and addiction by getting into recovery and becoming productive citizens again.

    We hear too much about the bad things impaired people do and it is refreshing to hear that it doesn't necesarily have to be like that. There are literally millions of 'FAVORs' out there who are incredibly happy and productive and can serve as role models for any of us, impaired or not !

    There may be a chapter near you. We have four chapters in our state alone (SC).

    April 1, 2008 at 12:22 am |
  10. Max Donner

    Karen is right - Doctors do get away with murder. I am encouraged that my health insurance carrier, Blue Shield, is willing to take some steps to stop enabling irresponsible behavior by doctors and the CMA.

    Very recently - March 2, a California doctor restrained me and severed two arteries in my abdomen while I was waiting in a check-in line at United Airlines. This violent retaliation took place after I had filed a complaint with Derek Shull, the security manager at Telluride Mountain Resort, that the doctor had lit up a marijuana pipe in a closed ski gondola. I had to escalate to the White House Council on Homeland Security just to get a police report and when I did , the name of the doctor was whited out. The TSA had surveillance tapes and a report of the physical injury by a security professional. These caused the United pilot to make a firm decision not to let the doctor board the plane based on the evidence, but I cannot press charges for one reason only - he is doctor.

    Blue Shield understood how widespread the problem of substance abuse by doctors is and approved my medical expenses anyway; Bill Roepp, the head of the main drug testing company in Central San Diego told me that about ten percent of the doctors and nurses they test randomly fail and that MOST male nurses in Central San Diego have tested negative for substance abuse at least one time.

    As long as doctors are able to get away with this type of abuse, the problem will continue and get worse. Thank you CNN for taking the time to report on this important issue.

    April 1, 2008 at 12:22 am |
  11. P. Evans

    We don't think twice about taking the keys away from a drunk driver or the controls away from a pilot. So why do we even think twice about taking the scapel away from a doctor who is under the influence? If we would stop making excuses for alcoholics/addicts and let them take the responsilbity for their own actions, blog discussions like this woudn't be necessary. When was the last time you saw someone pouring the alcohol or drugs down an addict's throat?

    April 1, 2008 at 12:22 am |
  12. Barb

    I was a victim of a doctor who butchered me, not Dr. West but one in WV. I had a breast reduction and tummy tuck. the scar on my stomache is so deep if you look at me from the waist down you can't tell which is the front and which is the back.
    To those of you that defend these doctors and it looks like a lot of you are men. Yes it was elective surgery but non the less I expected my surgeon to be sober.and competent. Drunk drivers loose their license, pilots are grounded so why are doctors any better? The only response I have for you folks is this, WOuld you want one of your kids going under their knife???? ANd to you men, if you had to have reconstructive surgery on your private parts(lol) would you prefer a drunk surgeon to do your surgery or a sober surgeon??? Well we women take just as much pride in our body as you guys do. Drunks are drunks whether they reside on skid row or in suburbia, and the consequences should be the same for all. I tried to find a lawyer that would take my case, searched all of WV and Ohio was told by a local attorney this doctor was at the time the only Plastic surgeon in the area and if a local lawyer would take the case he would be biting the hand that fed him because if he would later get a dog bite case and need a written deposition from this Dr. they would be plum out of luck. It is unfortunate but the Dr.s, lawyers and legislators srcatch each others backs and don't give a hoot about the ordinary citizens. Where has decency and common sense gone to????????????????

    April 1, 2008 at 12:20 am |
  13. Patient Advocates USA


    CNN doesn't have enough time to list all the other doctors like West in this country. He is but one representation of the complete failure of our governing body, "Medical Board," to protect patients.

    April 1, 2008 at 12:19 am |
  14. Susan Abbott

    I was victimized at a hospital, being totally blamed for malfeasance perpetrated against me by this hospital/ their medical professionals. Now I see this story. I have been trying to get some help to OPEN up people's eyes to what's going on unethically/illegally with us patients.

    God only knows if any of the medical professionals within the hospital I was in, have the same hidden secrets about alchol/drug addiction, etc. From personal experience, I know this hospital and their medical professionals were shielded from their wrongdoings, despite PROOF I had acquired. The horrible thing is that, even with physical proof I had, these people still get off and have the audacity to still retain practicing their profession(s). I don't know of any other kind of business/profession where they are so well protected/guarded, by state regulatory agencies, elected state officials, and yes, even law enforcement. It is so scary when a patient knows the truth and no one will listen an realize he gravity of what I have uncovered.

    In my case, I had no knowledge of, nor any control over what was perpetrated [unethically/illegally] against my civil liberties/patient's rights, yet this hospital/their medical professionals were NEVER held accountable for admitted wrongdoings against me.
    A physician and RN actually admitted they didn't know the hospital's policies where they work, they forgot to document. As far as I know, these two individuals are still working in this hospital. I totally fear for any person entering this hospital for medical services. I think this is beyond unconscionable, violating laws/hospital bylaws, hospital policies. Did anyone care? Absolutely not.

    I guarantee you, it's a total nightmare when YOU are the person who's legal rights have been stolen, your bodily integrity invaded without any form of legal permission/consent, despite a state regulatory agency believing FORGERY also was perpetrated against me.
    But did this agency also pay attention and do anything about this felony crime happening within a public trust, this hospital, against my rights? They denied the physician did anything wrong, yet explained how he was guilty of unprofessional conduct, violating our state's informed consent statute in a letter written to me. What insanity is this?
    How is this kind of regulation "ensuring the availability of competent medical professionals", [this state agency's slogan]? This agency just filed my complaint away, hidden from the the public's right to know just as with this Dr. West, who is protected/shielded from revealing his particular serious impairment(s), keeping his "secret".

    I nailed this hospital/their staff for wrongdoings, but they NEVER were the ones held to any kind of accountability. Believe me, when YOU become the victim of any form of unscrupulous, unethical, and/or illegal conduct, by which you are harmed/victimized by any impaired medical professional, then let's see how forgiving you are after the nightmares you are left to clean up after and deal with because of a [professional] person's impairment(s). The worst part is hearing the excuses to help the wrongdoer(s) escape their legal obligations, the constant denials of the truths you have uncovered.
    The public has a right to know, especially when these medical professionals are dealing with people's bodies, their lives.
    The excuse about them being allowed to not reveal their addiction(s) , staying hidden in the shadows, is sick and despicable.
    When these medical professionals are cutting into patient's bodies, the patient has every right to know the truth and be informed [before it's too late].
    Isn't it ironic how the patient is supposed to be totally honest with their physician, revealing anything/everything that could contribute to their health problem when seeing a physician. How is it considered different that a physician can hide any particular serious health problem(s) he/she might have?
    Maybe, it would be the best thing, for incompetent medical professionals, to be exposed and not let them practice, until they can be honest with their patients. Maybe then this would be a means to alleviate posing a potential danger to the public's health, safety and well being, thus less there might be a lot fewer malpractice suits to deal with.

    April 1, 2008 at 12:19 am |
  15. M Holzman

    Many patients have complications or infections after surgery. That is a known risk. Patients with cancer have a poor immune system and are more prone to all kinds of infections. Their complications may not be related to the physician's addiction or it may be. It is always a complicated problem to assign blame when a complication occurs. The answer to this problem is not to relinquish the privacy of physicans. They are people and do not want their confidential medical care published as it is against federal HIPPA laws. The American public wants excellent medical care yet they treat physicians with little respect and always blame doctors when there is a problem and the lawyers want to make money. Soon the American public will have to seek their medical from their lawyers.

    April 1, 2008 at 12:11 am |
  16. Daniel Bertram

    I agree that doctors have the right to seek private help for any addictions that they may have. In order to make such a program work while protecting the patient, the doctor should receive the help they need privately with paid leave if entered voluntarily. However, if found operating under the influence of a controlled substance that person should be removed immediately and faced with criminal charges. A program like this would work if the given hospital cared more about the patient than the dollar figure.

    April 1, 2008 at 12:09 am |
  17. Jim Ledbetter

    Don't throw the baby out with the bath water! The program is not the problem , the issue is incompetent physicians who are addicted to alcohol or drugs. Doing away with confidential program will not save patients. Several of those interviewed, stated they smell alcohol on the breath of the physician. Hello! Smell the coffee, or in this case the Kahkua. I would never agree to undergo surgery from someone who smells of alcohol. Where is common sense? Complain to the state Medical Board about behavior or results from surgery. Doctors do have their licenses suspended when there is evidence that alcohol or drugs are impacting their medical decisions. But there are many physicians who seek help early before patient care is impacted. Doing away with these confidential programs will often delay treatment until compromise of patient care is more widespread.

    April 1, 2008 at 12:08 am |
  18. dave

    As a physician in training, I'm flabbergasted by this report and the comment some people are making. First of all, I sympathize with those who have lost family members or are in constant pain because of a bad surgical experience by a doctor. But lets face it, we're all human and bound to make mistake. The reason why there's a huge selection process and numerous exams to take before a person become a licensed physician is to minimize the number of mistakes.

    For those who are not in the medical field, it is easy to loose perspective and blame the doctors for all the bad things that might happen after a treatment or surgery. There's a certain risk involved in almost every procedure in the medical field. And again, the physicians are trained hard and stressed out to their limits to ensure they minimize risks.

    Today, the general public get the view that doctors are good for nothing money making pigs. But who are we kidding? The medical system and shortage of medical professionals compel the doctors to work harder and a stressful lives. On top of that, The futile lawsuits that are brought upon every day drive the malpractice insurance prices, which have peaked to 20-40% of physician salaries. So they're forced to work harder or make short cuts to get done with a procedure and move on to a different patient. B/c of that Many have limited or no personal lives at all. Who's going to help the physicians when they're in trouble? With every prescription drug and alcohol available at their finger tips, many turn to pills as their next best friend. And once you're addicted, it stays there forever.

    We have developed this image for doctors that they're perfect individuals who can't lost their making mistakes virginity. So should we just discard these addicted doctors over something that's not in their control? Mr. Mikulecky's call to stop doctors from participating in diversion programs will only add to the existing problem. Physicians will not come out of their addiction closet and make more mistakes. Not only that, physician suicide rates will go up. Is that what we want as a society? Waste all these years of experience and knowledge just because they've made mistakes?

    I don't doubt that there are legitimate cases of malpractice, but to defame the whole profession is simply foolish. What we need is a medical reform in insurance to prevent doctors overcharging for services, change in malpractice laws to bar lawsuits that waste precious time and money, which could be utilized in better ways. The biggest obstruction to change is the notion that medical system is a for profit business. So instead of defaming doctors, CNN and the general public need to start focusing on how we can stop the big insurance and pharmaceutical companies' hold on our politicians. That is a right direction to proper medical care!

    April 1, 2008 at 12:08 am |
  19. Brenda

    Whose posting and defending all these doctors – the doctors themselves? This is a free forum for all not solely for doctors to post and defend other doctors!

    April 1, 2008 at 12:07 am |
  20. C Marr

    The California Medical Association should be liable for a practice that hides it's dirty laundry from would be patients.
    I don't care what profession you're in, if you are an addict you should no longer be able to carry on with that work until you are certified cured or completely rehabilitated and then on probation. Doctors are not above the law and shouldn't be protected more than the patients they butcher and the lifes they destroy.
    Doctors are in a profession that includes life and death decisions on a daily basis, impaired judgement of any kind can not and should not be tolerated.

    April 1, 2008 at 12:04 am |
  21. bill

    In response to Mr. Dog's comment, physicians who are allowed to practice whether under the influence or under treatment puts society at risk. There is a fine line between influence and treatment which is usually clouded by the intake of substances. I for one would be comforted in the fact that my physician was neither under the influence or treatment. And like any other criminal involvement requires close supervision even on the completion of treatment.

    April 1, 2008 at 12:02 am |
  22. Brenda

    I believe that the majority of those posting are doctor(s) and friends of Dr. West. CNN needs to hold another more "In-Depth" special on this topic and request stories and photos from the public.

    April 1, 2008 at 12:01 am |
  23. Danielle

    my husband is a recovering acholholic. 4 years this last december. When they are nolonger using they can be some of the best people you will ever know. It is true that Doctors need a place to go. However, that does not mean that their privacy should put the rest of us in danger. The should not be alowed to performe surgery for several years. with proff that they have attended a program over those years. with a sponcer. in short. they need to earn back the right to preforme surgery.

    April 1, 2008 at 12:01 am |
  24. Brenda

    Next Time, CNN has a special. I will send my photos of my botch surgery from a druggie doctor. I will also have "MULTIPLE" patients submit their photos. Can CNN request such photos on their websites? I think CNN will be surprise with the turnout. Not fair!

    April 1, 2008 at 12:00 am |
  25. Missy

    ENOUGH of the excuses! Alcoholism and drug addiction are not diseases – it's a choice! I choose not to drink and I choose not to put illegal substances into my system. I will only take prescription medication if it's absolutely necessary. Diseases are things we can't control like cancer. We can control what we put into our body so stop labeling drug addiction as a disease. It's unfair to those who have had to deal with the consequences of those destructive choices.

    March 31, 2008 at 11:59 pm |
  26. Tom

    My brother is a doctor and I am aware of a doctor who is/was an alcoholic and drug addict. It happened in a small town in America. Most cops were afraid to arrest this doctor due to there fear of the doctor attending the cop one day. The other doctors were also afraid to report him. But, eventually, he did get arrested after several warnings. He moved on to another hospital where he relapsed and still seeing patients discreety. This is such a crime and criminal penalties need to be issued.

    March 31, 2008 at 11:57 pm |
  27. Kevin - Indianapolis

    In response to Karen's comment on 11:11 PM, I think there is a vast difference between medical doctors and nurses when it comes to their responsibilities and their ease of replacement by "society" at large. The simple truth is that becoming an MD requires 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school after that, at least 3 years of residency (some residencies last longer than 7 years), and completion of multiple levels of licensure examinations – all of which requires a large investment of time and money by society at large. New rules go so far as to require physicians to become re-certified on a regular basis in their field by taking examinations on a regular basis. Becoming an RN requires 4 years of college and little else. This is the reason for the vast difference in responsibilities and rights granted to MDs and RNs.

    Perhaps medical associations should take a page from the book of the nursing regulation boards. Perhaps not. It seems like replacing a nurse with a new nurse would take far fewer resources than replacing an MD.

    As such, it only makes sense to give MDs a fair shake when it comes to beating addiction. Replacing a skilled MD is far more difficult than replacing a nurse, just examining the numbers. Addiction is classified as a mental illness by the latest DSM, and has been recognized as a medical condition by the AMA since the 1950's. As such, those afflicted with it require treatment, not loss of their livelihood for fessing up and facing their addiction by seeking treatment.

    Unfortunately, Anderson's report was one-sided, as they frequently are, taking the alarmist, populist attitude that blue-collar society is again being duped by "the man" – in this case, physicians. He picked a physician who specializes in plastic surgery (viewed as money-hungry physicians who do little along the lines of treating diseases or health conditions by most Americans) who was an unsympathetic target, and focused on an incredibly sympathetic group of women to exploit for his story – cancer survivors and the relatives of those who did not survive cancer. Anderson and Lou Dobbs are obviously more in line on things than I previously thought.

    March 31, 2008 at 11:54 pm |
  28. KH CA.

    Any addictions are also usually co-occurring meaning that the addiction it's self stems from underlying mental health issues of some sort. The long term damages from addictions can be nerological and mental. The oath says do no harm!!!

    March 31, 2008 at 11:54 pm |
  29. for good

    I work in a hospital. That said I had a Dr doing surgery's all day long, was not feeling good. The Dr had test done in the hospital and his alcohol level was 3 times the legal limit. What did the hospital do for this Dr? wiped out every single medical record for this Dr. Can you imagine if a nurse or someone with a lower caliber qualification would have come to work and worked on patients with that kind of a blood alcohol level. Fired instantly! What is a Dr's Hippocratic oath? I shall do no harm to patients. Put yourself in theses patients shoe's. There should be better whistle blowing laws for cases like this. I would like to turn in this Dr and administration, but I can not afford to lose my job! SORRY PATIENTS! You will just have to suffer!

    March 31, 2008 at 11:51 pm |
  30. Jim

    I have a family member that is a victim of malpractice and I can tell you it can affect your whole life.

    I'm shocked at how many comments on here seem to side with this doctor!

    Flat out if you are doing a job that requires that much dexterity as a doctor you should not be practicing at ALL if you are a substance abuser.

    Doctors make a fortune and live the lavish lives they do because of how important their job is. Is it to much to ask that they be sober?

    I don't smoke drink or do drugs at all and I'm not a doctor...why is it acceptable for someone who has people's lives in their hands to do so?

    If I were to take my pants off and run through my shopping mall I would be in prison and then be on a sex offender registry for life and when I got out I would be living under a bridge.

    But a doctor can mutilate more innocent women more brutally than 90% of the most sadistic rapists in his state put together and is on no website and is not in jail and continues to operate and probably gets paid a fortune still!

    There is way too much protection for doctors. A bad doctor can kill more people than a mass murderer.

    How is this different from any other crime? Look at the damage done to these poor women.

    I think there needs to be a website like ebay dedicated to rating doctors. This way if you are going to go to see a doctor you can know if he or she killed or mutilated 8 of the last 10 people they operated on or not.

    The way it works now you go in blind and have no clue until the damage is done.

    This would keep the good doctors in business and the bad ones out. Being a doctor is too important to have anything but the best in it.

    I hope that the people's lives that were ruined get compensated and that they heal as good as possible...my heart goes out to you!! I had tears in my eyes just watching this segment.

    Also doctors that hurt patients that badly should be in prison.

    March 31, 2008 at 11:47 pm |
  31. Jake

    Just wanted to echo what Doogie, Mr. Dog and some of the other health care providers related in prior posts. As a resident in anesthesiology, I have had extensive exposure on addiction through yearly conferences that are aimed to teach us about substance abuse, what confidential treatment entails, and how to detect the subtle clues that could mean addiction. Take away the confidential diversion programs and you jeopardize patient care, plain and simple.
    These programs help empower colleagues with getting the addicted into treatment. With all of the sacrifices that every health care worker has made in the pursuit of his or her career, would they be more likely to turn in a colleague knowing full well that they may be ending someone's career? Or is a physician struggling with alcohol abuse going to voluntarily enter rehab, only to have no chance at continuing their profession when they succeed in achieving sobriety? These programs have an 80% success rate. Plus, if a physician in a high risk field (i.e. surgery, anesthesiology, or any procedure based specialty) fails multiple times in the diversion program, they are no longer allowed to practice in that field. They typically retrain in psychiatry, family medicine, or internal medicine once they do succeed.
    Yes, it is awful to see what has happened to these patients. We should put trust in the legal system and state medical boards to fully evaluate for negligence. I cannot comment on who is at fault but the general public has to realize that when it comes to the competency of physicians, there is a very wide spectrum. A bad physician is going to be a bad physician regardless of the presence of addiction. The majority of doctors try their best to care for their patients. Unfortunately human beings are not infallible and they do not all come out of the same mold.
    So, if you take a wide variation in ability levels and couple it with the immeasurable complexity and variability of the human body, it is impossible to expect perfect outcomes. This is a misconception that I feel is so widely held by the public. We do not weigh the risks and benefits of surgical procedures, anesthesia, even down to drug interactions and side effects. The medical world constantly throws all of these at every patient but I do not believe many people take these seriously.
    Consequently, a bad outcome with no negligence involved could possibly misconstrued when something like a DUI arrest is made known. Just think of what litigation would be like if the public can find out if a physician has ever had problem with drugs or alcohol, no matter how minimal or remote it has been.

    In ending, it is the patient's responsibility to make informed decisions about their health care. Part of that is made when choosing who takes care of you. There are tons of resources available that rate how a particular physician compares with their peers with respect to various quality and efficiency measures. Doctors have responsibilities as well as rights but the patients we routinely care for apparently have plenty of rights but no responsibilities or accountability for their own health.

    March 31, 2008 at 11:46 pm |
  32. dv

    Well, I'm so glad to see that the public is becoming more aware of the secret programs protecting the identities of md's in "rehab" "diversion" programs. The auditor on the program tonight said that this program should have been shut down years ago; the audits have been conducted over the last 27 years and the final conclusion is that the program was run incompetently. The auditors have been ignored for years; but now patients are going to the courthouses, checking court files, meeting with other butchered patients and forming alliances across the U.S. Now the Medical Boards will begin to listen – only because it is now no longer a secret. I feel a patient's right supercedes a physician's right, even though he went to college longer than I did. He has a right to get well and not practice medicine while doing so. I don't even want to see an M.D. with a hangover, nor after his 3 martini lunch. I find it quite comical that the reason you keep a doctor's addiction secret is because if you enlighten the public, he will go underground, drink and/or take drugs more and more, will continue to lie about his addiction, and utimately someone in his office will have to disclose to a regulatory agency that the doctor is "ill". Never assume that a regulatory agency is doing their job. It now appears the medical board in Sacramento finally has come up with the ultimate answer to the problem – give the job to another state agency, I'm impressed. Keep up the good work patients and future patients!!!

    March 31, 2008 at 11:45 pm |
  33. Dotti

    As an RN I believe everyone has a right to privacy when fighting a disease. Addiction is a disease. However, having said that, it is clear that there is inadequate oversight in our medical facilities and that what is there is too often defensive to the facility only and not protective of the patient. Depending upon what statistics you read, between 99,000 and 300,000 people die each year in hospitals from medical error. It is no wonder why hospitals and professionals carry so much insurance--consider the actual $ liability if these errors are proven? We need transparentcy, sunlight, and if necessary criminal prosecutions. In the end, hospital administrators, doctors, nurses, and malpractice attorneys should be treated no differently than anyone else. Finally, those of us in the medical world understand the concept of "mandated reporters." If we see something that endangers a patient (done by another professional) we are supposed to be legally bound to report it to the proper authorities. Try contacting your state's Department of Health or Joint Commission of Accreditation for Hospitals to see how many reports are made each year. Virtually none. It is clear that the medical world does not police itself.

    March 31, 2008 at 11:45 pm |
  34. jen

    Doctors performing surgery in their private practices or in the hospital do not receive mandatory drug testing? Why, when most employees working for the city are required to have mandatory testing. Many doctors are alcoholics, drug addicts and have bad sexual addictions. So sad that doctors are so highly protected rather than the patient. Many other doctors are aware of "Addicted" doctors and refuse to "rat" them out due to fear of becoming blackballed at the expensive of the patient's well-being. Pretty Sad!

    March 31, 2008 at 11:41 pm |
  35. Dr. Rad

    I applaud the comments of the nurse, 'Mr. Dog'. I could not have stated the case better. For the record, I am a recovering physician ( just short of 18 years clean).

    It might be worth noting a few facts that could enlighten the general public. Approximately 7-10% of the US population is alcoholic and/or addicted. Less than 1% of that 7-10% ever receives adequate treatment for their disease. The rest will die, most likely, with or as a result of their disease.

    Of physicians in the US, the % of alcoholism/addiction is roughly 12% plus, as high as 15% in some studies. That means there are roughly 115,000 impaired physicians in the US (due to drugs/alcohol). A few thousand additional docs are impaired by mental illness, sexual and gambling addictions and senility/cognitive issues! Approximately 10,000 of those will recieve proper treatment. That will leave 100,000 plus impaired physicians out there who are 'unknown' to anybody.

    With an average 3000 patient encounters per year per doctor, that makes for ~ 30,000,000 'impaired patient visits' per year !! Scarey huh?

    Without physican health programs that absolutely guarantee anonymity, the number of practicing impaired MDs would be much higher. A doctor is much less likely to step forward and ask for help if there is fear of sanctions, loss of income or license and embarrassment. The good MD health programs provide for anonymity IF the physician adheres to the treatment/recovery program outlined for him/her. If the doctor doesn't comply, they will be subject to publuc reporting and possible legal action and, likely, licensure sanctions.

    No program that I know of lets doctors practice impaired. They must undergo basic treatment (ie in patient) and then intensive out-patient treatment with strict monitoring, meeting attendance (ie AA or NA) and peer review, etc. When they reach an offical 'non-impaired' staus, even though they are still being 'monitored and treated', they can practice.

    The good news is that physican health programs are beginning to fluorish (as opposed to just 10 years ago–my state did not have one until 2002). The bad news is that the most dangerous physicians are the ones out there, impaired but not yet identified. The ones in treatment/recovery should be applauded–they are not the most likely docs to 'injure' you!!

    There are, of course, some bad doctors out there, impaired or not ! So please don't condemn the practicing doc in tratment or recovery–give him a high five. Ten of thousands of his colleagues are still hiding their disease and will continue to damge people's lives as a result.

    Incidentally, the highest percentage of impaired doctors are fin the specialty of family practice.

    Feel free to email me at bclarksc@carol.net. I am more than happy to share my thoughts (and recovery) with anyone !!

    March 31, 2008 at 11:39 pm |
  36. Dr. Dr

    Simple truth is that this man should not be allowed to work because of his dangerousness. He could very well have poor surgical skill to start with, but given his flagrant lack of judgement and poor insight into his illness, the affect of alcohol can only worsen his already chalanged skills.
    Would Dr. West have an other addicted and substance dependent surgeon perform an appendectomy, or a face lift, or a bypass, or a hip replacement ON HIM... OR HIS MOTHER OR FATHER. If the answer is No, then he should haave his licence revoked on the principle of hypocracy. If he says YES , then he should also be commited to a Psychiatric Unit on the principle of indangering the lives of others.

    I ponder furthermore, the question of who is responsible for his credentialing and oversight in the hospital / clinic in which he practices, and why did they not take away his priviledges to continue working in that (those) hospitals.
    There are plenty of excellent MDs all over the U.S. Weeding off the few bad ones can only but help the profession.

    March 31, 2008 at 11:39 pm |
  37. Esther cuyahoga falls ohio

    well this is what i got to say about it
    we treat Doctors like God's so they behave like devils
    we pay them and they still stiff us and make us think its our fault but its this systems fault for allowing doctors to be under so much pressure of being sued they have to drink or do drugs like us to relieve the stress
    will the real God please Stand and forgive us

    March 31, 2008 at 11:35 pm |
  38. james

    I applaud CNN for running this story, however it had absolutely no impact or quality at all. CNN spent 50 minutes on a political puke fest that needs to go away. Everyday 24/7 this is all we get, same sound bites and same stock footage. There is a whole lot more to this Dr. West story than CNN put on the air. I know because my wife was one of his victims and yes I said victims, because that is what he creates. He does nothing for society but make it worse, and the CMA and the Medical Board of California are just as much at fault for there inaction. They are as if not more corrupt than the politicians that CNN spoon feeds to us every night. CNN failed to mention the 100 plus patients that have been victims to Dr. West....the ones that have died..the injured and disfigured child that Dr. West injured...the amputated legs of a prominant business man in CA... the fact that you clean the blood off you after surgery..are left sedated for 9 hours for a 2 hour operation...so thanks CNN but no thanks for the gripping coverage of stories that really matter in peoples lives like how much money politicians spend to be popular. Thank you. Dr. West's alcoholism and his butchered patients were made to look like a kindergarten birthday party.

    March 31, 2008 at 11:27 pm |
  39. jerry frankel

    what % of airline pilots are allowed to fly commercial flites under the influence of alcohol or illicit drugs? 0! why, because public safety trumps all other issues. As a surgeon, I once experienced working with an anesthesiologist who almost killed my patient only to find out the doc had failed rehab, was working with a suspended license, hidden by the hospital administration. the doc never worked with my patients ever again & shortly afterwards died of an over dose in between cases. every person in the OR should be spot checked periodically without notice. anyone who tests positive should lose their operating room priviliges nationwide for a yr, provide evidence of satisfactory rehab & have permanent spot testing if & when privileges are resumed

    March 31, 2008 at 11:26 pm |
  40. KH CA.

    Why do they have to prove alcohol consumption while operating on a patient? Isn't incompetence enough? They are butchering patients, ruining their health & endagering their lives. Infact the dr. that treated the lady that died from lack of treatment for cancer should have been charged with murder.

    Once an addict always an addict! They should have their license revoked. The chances that these people will return to addict behavior is unpredictable so why should they be allowed to continue harming others. It is a known fact that prolonged alcohol and drug usage causes nerve damage. After many years in treatment maybe nerve damage is further contributing to incompetence. A dr. takes an oath & when it's broken that's it.! The people that they are harming do not get a second chance why should they! dr preferiental treatment in society is insane and must end!

    March 31, 2008 at 11:24 pm |
  41. AS

    Mr. Dog,

    Well said, couldnt agree with you more. Doctors are human, make mistakes, any program out there to help them should be encouraged rather than keep them in the closet

    March 31, 2008 at 11:24 pm |
  42. Carol Howe

    Don't patients check into a surgeon's background, and why hasn't word of mouth gotten around about this Doctor West? He's been sued any number of times. Isn't there a public record of this?

    March 31, 2008 at 11:23 pm |
  43. Barry Cartwright

    Good heavens. Shocking that the US medical system allows things like this to happen.
    I am a Canadian vacationing in Florida and hope I don't get sick in the USA. That's scarey.
    US talk shows, among other sources I hear in the US about the Canadian healthcare system constantly spout absolute lies about our system. " Free" my butt. Not perfect but a hell of a lot better than the US system. We don't go bankrupt over healthcare like so many unfortunate Americans do. Some media types claim the US healthcare system is the best in the world. Rediculous! Google healthcare systems and see where the US stands.
    The Canadian government, not Canadian insurance companies, contol the healthcare system and taxes cover a large part of the costs. Socialistic? Really? Then do independent US insurance companies cover the cost of the US military, police and fire departments, infastructure, etc. No, the government does through taxes. In Canada we consider healthcare ranks with the precxeding.
    My wife was an operating room nurse in Canada for over 30 years and I have known many Canadian doctors over the years. I have also heard some pretty scarey stories from US friends about the US healthcare system. I'll take Canada's healthcare system any day. Incidently I am the Canadian version of a conservative so phoey to those in the US who would consider my comments to be "liberal". I'll settle for "common scense"

    March 31, 2008 at 11:23 pm |
  44. Erik

    What a poorly researched story!!! You need to mention that the most common reason that a physician's license is revoked is substance abuse. Medical professionals are among the most closely monitored people in America and diversion programs are an important part of that monitoring. I wonder how many people at CNN are substance abusers? I bet it is more than 1%!

    March 31, 2008 at 11:21 pm |
  45. Bev, Sacramento

    I'm shocked!!! I WAS HIS PATIENT!
    I knew something was not right because I attended a meeting before my surgery for breast cancer information. I spoke briefly with Dr. Debra Johnson and mentioned that Dr. West was my surgeon. She rolled her eyes and you could tell there was a problem (he had been in her practice), but she would not tell me what it was. She just said he was a good surgeon and did not encourage me to find another surgeon! I feel angry at Dr. Johnson about now. She knew but protected him.

    I have to wear a partial prothesis even though I have had reconstruction (which can be uncomfortable over the implant) because I don't match in size and I still have a very significant scar after 8 years.

    I knew that his life was a mess after the surgery. I once met him in a store after my surgery, but I was still having follow up visits. He started telling me all this very personal (and totally inappropriate) stuff about the women in his life. One had a murder contract out on him, went to jail and he ended up engaged to her jailer!

    Just remembered somethin else. Right before my surgery, my friend said he made a very sexual comment that was so embarrassing to her that she never even told me what it was! I don't remember a thing because I was already sedated.

    March 31, 2008 at 11:21 pm |
  46. BM

    "we are all human" my ass (sorry for the language)
    sure people change and he went to rehab and did all that good stuff
    but people lost their lives because of this idiot,
    the least they could do is bring him to justice, or atleast they could have suspended his license. this lack of justice just shows how ridiculous our legal system is. my heart goes out to all those who had to put up with this dramatic situation

    March 31, 2008 at 11:20 pm |
  47. ramz

    how come nobody on this discussion can spell? maybe those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones...

    March 31, 2008 at 11:19 pm |
  48. Steve [Kenya]

    Its beyond my wildest dream that such kind of a "doctor" is still practising. Simply can he be pulled to the gallows and let him face the charges?
    As a patient, and a client to such a doctor,i would demand the best servcies ever given that am trusting my health –my life on him.

    Let the authorities withdraw his license and all on the program should be exposed. then its on my decision to which doctor -out of over 8000 addicts i would like to go to. But if kept secret, we all jeopadize human life.

    Sorry and pitty cant reverse what he has done to human but this should ring a wake-up call.

    March 31, 2008 at 11:19 pm |
  49. D

    I am also a recovering alcoholic, and I am also a Christian and a medical professional. I feel badly for Dr. West whose medical history has been displayed for the whole world to see. I cannot speak for the detailed case, but has anyone heard of HIPAA? If someone wants to call CNN with their medical history, that's one thing, but to display someone else's is another matter.....

    March 31, 2008 at 11:18 pm |
  50. Tom Bonbright

    I have no doubt there is a percentage of doctors in state medical association and board approved confidential rehab programs that are a danger to their patients due to continued use of drugs and/or alcohol. As a total number....8000 doctors nationwide was sited for those in such diversion programs. Perhaps 20%, (an 80% success rate was mentioned), will continue to pose a threat to patients...I would hazard to say that those percentages would be reversed if no such programs, (even sloppy ones), did not exist.
    Of even greater concern would be the even far greater number of docs still in addiction and living some fantasy that they do not need help...if anything, these types of programs should have far greater support and availability.

    March 31, 2008 at 11:17 pm |
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