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. Marian

    I live in Michigan, am disabled, and nearly 2 years ago was sent by a contractor to my former employer, the state, to a doctor who did not even pretend to do an exam but was very aggressive and menacing. Of course, he found me miraculously cured of my disability and I lost that part of my income. It turns out that he did 5 years in prison here in MI for trying to kill his estranged wife with a claw hammer to the head, lost his license, then got it back because "it is in the public interest." He was still in the correctional system. He is employed by one of several "insurance consulting firms" in this state. He does not have to carry malpractice insurance as he, the insurer, and the state are all immune from legal action arising as a result of their actions. Doesn't matter if they tell the truth. I have since discovered that doctors from other states who cannot practice there, say for malpractice issues, substance abuse, crime, etc, can come here and get licensed. The licensing web site does not reveal this. I have heard multiple horror stories. The last doctor I was made to see is infamous in legal circles and he caused such a serious injury to my neck that I had to have very complicated spinal surgery and will have permanent loss and continue to deteriorate for the rest of my life. Have I had an apology or gotten my benefits back? NO. My neurosurgeon had a fit when he saw what happened. Can I do anything to hold them accountable, again no. By the way, the insurer got a bonus for stopping my benefits and it appears they have an ownership interest in these consulting practices. And the state does not check their references most of the time. Come to Michigan, Ms Kaye, you'll be stunned.

    April 1, 2008 at 3:57 pm |
  2. geo

    I am really disappointed in the narrow view that Anderson Cooper has taken on this topic. The story was sensationalized so he could get viewers to watch. I am a recovering physician for the past 7 years have been sober and practicing medicine. Not only does he refer to recovering physicians as people with a dark secret but he fails to mention that 10 percent of the population has a drug and/or alcohol problem, including physicians, but did state that 1 percent of physicians are known to be in a monitoring situation. If he wants the other 9 percent of physicians treated for addiction this view has got to change.
    The reality of the situation with physicians who are disciplined by medical boards is quite diferent then what was portrayed on the show. having been disciplined by several medical boards myself, if you google my name you will get my full agreements with all medical boards disclosing my previous medical, psychiatric history as well as all drugs abused and treatment centers attended for the whole world to view. When I moved to a new state( 4 years into recovery) an article was written about my history in the City paper again stating my whole past. Is this how we can get physicians to report drug and alcohol problems who desperately need treatment?? Think about it

    April 1, 2008 at 3:57 pm |
  3. mary connell

    Thank you so much for th e story on the butcher. We are in Indiana and have a daughter who is the mother of three and has been unable to work for over two years. Getting blood transfusions every month and has had for the past year and a half. Over 45,00$ has been spent out of pocket due to a dr. who wasn't even licensed at the time and is still operating. She had a minor operation on a hernia repair and turn into he cut her bowel and left her lay for three days before operating again only to cut a vessel behind her heart causing blood loss. She has had three operations since trying to correct what he has done and could not have anymore until she is able. It has been a year and a half since the last one. She has now got Lupus from the stress of all th is and she has no vitamins or iron in her body she gets bags of them monthly also to keep her going with from 2 to 4 pints of blood. She can't eat without choking because now she has no saliva glands functioning. She has a law suit against this dr. and when ask why he gave her valuim after the first surgery he laugh and said I don't know just did. I think all Drs should be more closely check all of them. Money has something to do with it no doubt. This man couldn't even give the names of Drs he trained under said they were all dead. I pry that justice is done for all who are abused just because people in authority think that they are untouchable to me they should go to jail. THank you Keep up the great work. Mary Connell

    April 1, 2008 at 3:49 pm |
  4. Kay

    When an RN is chemically dependent, or has a relapse she will lose her license to practice nursing, also most likely will be charged with a felony, couple weeks in jail, probation for 10 years. Will be unable to work, has no income. There seems to be different sets of rules for people. I lost mine for 2 years. RNS do not operate on people, mostly dispense pills, etc. I think DRS should be held to a higher standard. But now days it seems the rules don't apply to some people, the higher on the food chain they can do what ever they want.

    April 1, 2008 at 3:49 pm |
  5. Kate

    The Medical Board does not report malpractice lawsuits. We are not all lazy!!!
    I checked the Board before my surgery. I am alive but I am worse than any photos I have seen. I since have found out about his lawsuits. There have been enough that the Medical Board should have them on their report. I will never be the same.

    April 1, 2008 at 3:37 pm |
  6. Steph

    It is Absurd to allow a physician concurrently in REHAB to operate on patients....
    To operate on an individual while in the process of LEARNING to control impulses that are as a result of the physician's addiction, is not only IMMORAL but should be a CRIMINAL offense.

    Just like individuals with AIDS can be prosecuted for having sex with others, while knowingly being infected with the HIV virus, so should a physician be prosecuted for MURDER or attempted MURDER for operating on individuals while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.

    I do believe that physicians can be rehabilitated, however this process should NOT be done while continuing to operate on patients.
    The physician should be clean & sober for several years prior to the Medical Board allowing these rehabed physicians to operate.

    Also, Just as people are NOT allowed to drink and drive.....Physicians should NOT be allowed to drink and operate!

    Thank You ANDERSON COOPER for informing the public about the attrocities that still exist in the American societies...Change NEEDS to happen!

    April 1, 2008 at 1:43 pm |
  7. Fern Sidebotham

    I need to respond to the comment from TT. Sharon Mikulecky was my sister. I sat through surgery after surgery to try and stop the infection this doctor caused. Sharon also told me she smelled alcohol on Dr West's breath. I thought that her sense of smell had been ruined with the chemo she had gone through. Who could believe that a doctor about to perform surgery would drink first. Ok, doctors are human too, but I was brought up to believe we could trust these people. A product of the times I guess. How dare you say "another lie by Mr. Mikulecky!" I will just bet you never watched your loved one die. I did and it was NOT necessary for her to die. It is NOT a lie. These women are not vengeful, they will have these disfigurments for the rest of there lives, and all caused by the same man. Something is wrong here. Same infection, same scars..same doctor!

    April 1, 2008 at 10:53 am |
  8. BJ

    Sadly, the program was sensationalist in nature and didn't depict the full story. There was no distinction between an actively addicted doc who was still practicing and a doc who is in recovery.
    I question whether Dr West's errors had anything to do with his being a drunk. He may just be a lousy surgeon. It is terrible that these women suffered botched surgeries and delay in their cancer ttreatments. However, I don't think we have any idea whether he was impaired or just bad at what he does. I am so sorry for Mr M's loss, but who would agree to surgery if they smelt alcohol on their docs breath?
    This may sound harsh, but the reconstructive portion of cancer treatment is elective. A good choice would be get the chemotherapy done first, and then do the reconstruction. For me, the choice between a reconstructed breast and being cancer free because I have had the chemo is easy – chemo first then breast.
    Diversion programs are an excellent way to get impaired docs into ttreatment. Without a diversion program, these docs would be practicing un-monitored and that is a recipe for disaster. If the doc flunks diversion, (s)he should immediately be brought before the Physician's Board. The only difference between the diversion program and full Board supervision is that diversion is not public record, and Board actions are.
    In fairness, how about a story about docs and other health care professionals who have successfully faced their addictions and now function safely, clean & sober? I would far rather have a physician who is in recovery than one who is still active in his/her disease.

    April 1, 2008 at 8:55 am |
  9. Vanessa Seal

    I recently saw a show about the death penalty and the doctor's first words were "First do no harm". It seems that this phrase can be used to hide behind or thrown away as needed. Perhaps it's the Medical Board that needs to be reviewed and what don't they understand about "First do no harm". I relise this particular physician is in rehab and under review by the Medical Board but when does gross incompetence become acceptable by any standards. I believe the Medical Board should ask themselves this question, "Would I want this physician to operate on someone I love"?, because this physician has and the results have been devastating.

    April 1, 2008 at 8:47 am |
  10. Kevin

    Look into the number of nurses in a rehab program. Nurses are the one's delivering medications with life changing consequences. I am a former RN and had a drinking problem. It took getting out of nursing completely for me to remain sober. I had to make that decision. The State Nursing Board continued to try and keep me in nursing, all anonymously, as they also did with hundreds of other nurses around the State.

    It would totally amaze the public to know how many nurses are addicts taking care of their loved ones. 8000 doctors? 8000 is a drop in the bucket compared to the number of nurses nationwide who are addicts and alcoholics.

    April 1, 2008 at 8:02 am |
  11. alex

    It isn't the alcohol. That's the red herring here. If a doctor, nurse, lawyer, psychologist, etc. is performing badly (whether due to an addiction, lack of skill or lack of education) there is little chance that one of his colleagues will take action. Why? Defamation law suits.

    A whistle blower is not protected and is, in fact, shunned and scorned. Unless you've been able to turn to an oversight agency regarding a bad practitioner without personal trauma, don't tell me that the system works. I certainly know better and have been living the nightmare of their revenge ever since I tried to protect my patients.

    Would I do it over again? Yes. But none of the people who know my situation would.

    Stick your head in the sand and try to stay out of it seems to be the message we are sending to Americans.

    April 1, 2008 at 7:58 am |
  12. Surgeon

    I am deeply saddened by what these patients experienced, but they certainly are not unusual complications. Taking a piece of stomach muscle and swinging it up to create a mound of flesh where the breast used to be is a major, major operation with the potential for many poor outcomes. The intestines bulging out into the skin is a hernia and happens sometimes after any operation on the belly. Scars by nature are never attractive. As a surgeon myself, I always tell my patients that surgery is a "last resort". Plastic surgeons who perform brest reconstruction are doing it to help women who desire this operation, they are not paid particularly well for it. In fact, it can be difficult to find a surgeon to do this operation as they would rather do much more lucrative cosmetic surgery. A doctor must be well trained, honest and never impaired while working – I think the vast majority fit this description. This story never mentions that the surgeon was impaired at work, rather he had bad outcomes from diffilcult operations. Maybe his mistake was agreeing to perform these operations in the first place. On a side note, a dear friend had a mastectomy after having breast cancer. She decided not have reconstruction, was back to playing tennis 4 weeks later, and even though she is now flat chested, is just as beautiful as ever.

    April 1, 2008 at 7:55 am |
  13. Charlie Rodgers

    I cant keep myself from commenting on this story. It is early on tuesday morning and I just watched this for the second time, irritating me even more. I just read nearly every comment on this blog, and I'm relieved to note that at least some of your viewers are not brain dead. This story was a hatchet job on a program which can only do much more good than nothing at all. Certainly any attempt to deal with addiction is controversial, but before we understand things we dont know anything about (as evidenced by the reporting) we should be cautious about judging. Does anyone not know about the Salem witch burnings/drownings? This doctor has apparently been able to overcome the active stage of his addiction and should be left out of sensationalized and disappointing tabloid journalism. I cannot express to you how sad to know that cnn would broadcast such crap. I have so much less respect for Anderson than before, and I think the interviewer should be transfered to cover the flower festival scene. Maybe she will uncover major wrongdoing there.

    April 1, 2008 at 7:17 am |
  14. Theo

    Doctor addictions is far more prevelant then reported, I believe. A self policing body like physicians has an incentive to "protect their own." In some states there's a "white coat" wall of silence that gives docs on drugs protection and hides their problems from the public. While the medical board does publich sanctions and agreements not to practice due to certain actions, they are often delayed long enough that the doctor can "get away" with their addiction and in fact nothing is revealed about whether the doctor should be allowed back to work or if he was even asked to take time off from work. This isn't surprising in a profession with so many people in leadership positions that counteneance affairs between physicians–some married and some not– in "on-call" room"s as sadly and accurately portrayed on "Grey's Anatomy." These same people when not having affairs, are worrying about how much money they are going to make and with the notable exception of some physicians who ask how they can do their jobs better , we are left with a highly skilled, trained group of people who have been given historically many freedoms that may endanger their patients. I think that even the unions that manage crane operators would respond more harshly to drug use by a crane operator (e,g,, "your fired and can't operate a crane"), and may even have a moral code about family that discourages affairs. In sum, doctors are just like everyone else, but because they are held up to be somehow special due to their trade, they are able to act as if they are immune to the concerns of the people they treat. Perhaps its the disconnect caused by insurance and physicians don't connect their livelihood to the people they treat and therefore they are less concerned about their patients? I don't know. I've learned that doctors are not to be revered or praised as highly skilled "life savers." they are people, weak, sometimes careless, and as able as anyone else to get drug addicted, get divorced, etc. As potential patients, we should expect that our physicians are that way until they an prove otherwise. It's potentially too costly an illusion to buy into otherwise. Please note that there are awesome physicians who are skilled in their art who are trustworthy, honest and deserve their rewards. Just as in any skilled trade where excellence can be found: electricians, plumbers, auto mechanics. Doctors are only different in that they can directly impact your health with a careless mistake whereas the others likely will leave you only with a light switcth that turns off/on the wrong light, a leaky faucet, and a car that still has the "check engine" light on. Put good doctors out there to trreat pepople, reward them, and stop drugged doctors from practicing. In general, have your eyes open. And feel free to ask; break down the wall of physician arrogance and push for answers if you have a questions.

    April 1, 2008 at 7:02 am |
  15. Tom

    I am a pharmacist and a recovering alcoholic and practicing. The story regarding Dr West, plastic surgeon, while shocking draws the conclusion that Dr West's skills as a surgeon, or lack there of, continues to be associated with his alcoholism. There a thousands of highly skilled health care professionals who sought treatment for alcohol and drug addiction and have returned to active practice. The questions in Dr West's case are his competence as a surgeon and and the lack of oversight by the licensing and cerification boards. Also, the monitoring program for physicians in California is clearly in need of renovation or transferred to another monitoring program with strict and verifiable policies and procedures. As noted in the news segment, between 80% and 90% of health care professionals entering recovery programs successfully complete the programs. It is not necessarily the programs that fail but the disease of addiction that wins. It is easy to conclude that public notification of a doctor's, or others, addiction will somehow reduce the adverse outcomes of incompetent skill levels. Impaired physicians will continue in practice and will not seek the needed treatment programs. They basically will go "underground" . The public is not well served either by removal of highly skilled healthcare professionals from practice or by not encouraging the seeking of treatment without fear of regulatory punishment. I am currently the president of the Pharmacist Recovery Network in my state. In just 4 years in existence, we have 30+ pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, and pharmacy students in our program and over 90% have completed treatment programs and have returned to practice. The 10% that drop out of the program are then referred to the State Board of Pharmacy for disciplinary action or revocation of license. Without this program, most of our clients would remain in the shaddows and likely pose a threat to the public or themselves. The true risk is not for those who seek treatment; it is the those that remain hidden. I recommend looking at the Utah School of Alocoholism and Other Addictions as well as recovery programs in other states.

    April 1, 2008 at 6:56 am |
  16. florence

    I also find it ludicrous that some feel the patient does not have a right to know. How many of us "regular people" have to be drug tested when we apply for a job, and during employment. Yes, in most nursing homes, aides are frequently tested. Why on earth, should doctors be exempt. That higher than God attitude still exists unfortunately. Bet most of the people making those statements were never on the "receiving" end of these monsters. Yes, when you know you hurt people repeatedly, and continue to do so that is exactly what you are. I feel just like a stabbing victim. I know what it must feel like to be stabbed. Only thing I was stabbed repeatedly by a knife welding doctor....come on......he has the right to repeatedly stab patients...and perform procedures that he was never authorized to..come on..guess and I consider the hospital his co-hort in crime. In fact, I blame them more than him. Because I do forgive him, but will never ever forgive Loris Hospital. They are more despicable than him anyday of the week. Yes, he is human, he made more mistakes that I care to think about. BUT, THEY let him...........

    April 1, 2008 at 6:25 am |
  17. Informed_Decision

    I should correct myself a bit here as it is 3 in the morning, and I have been up for almost 19 hours. An Addict defined is a person who has an addiction to a substance, or sulet's themselves be consumed by a substance.

    I was talking from the point of view that I felt the Reporter was talking about narcotics and alcohol in the same view.

    They are both different obviously, but they are both addictive and a person who cannot stop using is an Addict by definition so I apologize for my comment as to the reporter misquoting and being uninformed, as I just listened to her again on CNN.

    April 1, 2008 at 6:18 am |
  18. Noell

    It really surprises me that people would believe doctors are somehow better humans than the rest of the world. My husband was a welder with the Boilermakers Union. This union and any other has a very strict drug policy. If you get picked for a random drug test, which you don't get to prepare for, hence the word random, and you are dirty, you are automatically sent home from the job and you don't go back to work until you can satisy the drug requirements. Repeat offenders MUST finish a drug rehabilitation program before they can go back to work. Period.
    Why would any doctor, who has actual lives in his hands, be allowed to operate until he completely satisfied the same requirements that a welder, crane operator or mechanic would. It is absolutely absurd we would allow addicted doctors to work simply because they have a right to make a living. So do the rest of us.

    April 1, 2008 at 6:14 am |
  19. florence

    I too was a patient of a doctor whom I had no idea had problems. It almost cost me my life. During a routene tubal ligation he punctured my intestines 3 times. I complained, cried, begged after surgery for help to no avail. I was sent home to die. Thank God I survived.Loris Hospital in South Carolina disgusts me. Though I successfully sued the doctor, they never would own up to their failure to treat me. I got less than $10,000 from the hospital. I had to get a colostomy, subject to humiliation of having instruments inserted in me. I cried, whimpered with humiliation, but they were cold as ice. I suffer almost daily with irritible bowel syndrome now. I am scarred severely, and have almost no hope of ever having a normal relationship. They knew all about this doctor. I feel deceived by him and the hospital. It's been told to me that this doctor had substance abuse problems, but of course we have to prove it after they ruin our lives. Which of course is nearly impossible due to "their" cover ups..People before you decide this story is one-sided, think again. I almost died on my son's birthday. What about my kids, what about what they allowed my whole family to endure. It makes me sick that anyone would try to justify this type of patient treatment. Hospitals are not anything else, but big money corporations. I had to literally fight to survive this disgusting act of his, and my children suffered immeasurably. It is time for a change..Please keep doing these stories. There are many, many people out there who can be saved from inept doctors and callous hospitals. Go to your local courthouse BEFORE you let anyone do anything to you. Check their records, what you find might shock you. It was too late for me. When I did find out, it crushed me because what he did to me wasn't the first or second or third..Shame on the hospital for permitting this. All for the sake of MONEY.

    April 1, 2008 at 6:14 am |
  20. Informed_Decision

    First of all, the reporter is pretty unimformed when she sits there talking about a persons alcohol problem, and then at the end asks the husband if he believes his wife died because the Surgeon was an Addict. An Addict is not the same as an acoholic and if she took the time to really be informed, then she may not have looked like a goof on National tv.

    Nobody else would or could inform authorities that the DR. was intoxicated during the surgery. No the Anestesiologist, the partners of the firm or anyone else, yet the reporter made it sound as though there was evidence pointing in that direction.

    I am a huge fan of privacy rights, so I do not believe that we have the right to know of someone elses problem. As it is setup with the Medical Board now, if a person is found to have committed negligence while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they are for the most part excpet for rare instances, dismissed as a Physician and no longer allowed to practice medicine.

    If a DR. is found guilty of Gross Negligence and is allowed to continue practicing medicine, they will have a black mark against their record which any smart patient would find if they inquired into the background of the Surgeon attending them by contacting the Board of Medicine for each state the Surgeon has practiced in.

    I have had multiple surgeries myself,and I have done background checks on all of them. I dismissed one Surgeon as I had found 3 suits filed in 1 year, in a state the Surgeon had been practicing in just a year prior to my surgery.

    The bottom line is, do as much research as you possibly can, and if you EVER have doubts, even if it is 5 minutes before surgery, call off the surgery and ask a friend or relative to investigate for you. If you feel your suspicions are correct, then you should contact the local Law Enforcement immediately so that they may have a chance to interview the Surgeon, or Dr. depending on the circumstances.

    April 1, 2008 at 6:09 am |
  21. Vasco Rodrigues

    Great piece on Dr. Wess

    Although I understand that people deserve a second chance, it is beyond me that doctors are still allowed to practice while in rehab. This is criminal and irresponsible by whoever allows this. i am shocked!

    As an airline pilot, I can somewhat compare my job responsibilities with those of a doctor, we both have people's lives in our hands even if it is only one at the time.

    I have to go through a flight physical every six months at which I am tested for drugs and my driving record has to be free from any DUI or DWI, if any of these is positive, I'm grounded on the spot and all my aviation licences and ratings are suspended.

    Pilots are grounded during rehab which can last a year or more and can only come back to work after several tests.

    Doctors in rehab for drug or alcohol abuse should have their licences suspended as well and not be allowed to practice until they have completed and graduated from the rehab program.

    April 1, 2008 at 6:09 am |
  22. lrg in California

    I applaud the physicians and nurses who posted on this blog. I am a psychologist, and I also interact frequently with members of the health care system.

    Like the nurse who posed, I noted the sensationalistic aspect to this report, particularly on the part of Mr. Cooper. I also noted that, while the reporter for this story acknowledged that no nexus had been found between the addiction of this physician and his surgery outcomes, Mr. Cooper did not seem to listen to this. There have indeed been problems with diversion programs in California, as there are with oversight of many other professions, many of which do impact human lives. It also true that substance abuse affects many professionals, and that physicians have the same right to privacy in treatment that other professionals have. If the addiction is shown to impact their medical performance, obviously corrective action is needed.

    It may be a bit soon to accuse CNN of a global, anti-physician bias, but it is worth watching, because other issues will arise soon. Medicare and Medicaid (Medi-Cal) cuts are slated to occur very soon. Many physicians will simply be unable to afford to continue to participate in these programs, as many have stopped accepting managed care patients. Will CNN portray these decisions as the actions of greedy doctors, or will they "dig deeper," comparing the massive cuts in some physicians' earnings (up to 30% in some specialties) to the record-setting profits being made by the insurance companies? Will they interview the hardworking pediatricians who are now getting paid so little to administer immunizations that they can't cover the cost of refrigerating them? Will they talk to the hospitals that are in danger of closing because neither the state nor the insurance companies will pay them anything close to what it costs to deliver care?

    Physicians as a group are often expected to behave in a superhuman manner, to be perfect all the time, and to produce perfect outcomes in patients. The fact that someone had a negative outcome does not necessarily mean that the physician committed malpractice, but physicians are frequently accused nevertheless. The vindication of the physicians in the John Ritter case underscored the fact that a bad outcome is not necessarily the doctor's fault, but the physicians endured years of litigation to demonstrate this. The vindication got one night's play on CNN, while "expose's" of bad doctors consume much more air time.

    More health care issues are coming, and CNN has a physician on staff. Let's see if they can rise to the challenge to report health care stories in a manner that's fair to the people who are expected to provide care, and who are all to frequently attacked by a press that is too lazy to get their side of the story.

    April 1, 2008 at 5:07 am |
  23. dick palmer

    WOW! What a tragic tale. I am really wary of those plastic serguns. Even guys like that nice Dr. Rey on Dr.90210 I think might take a snort or two once in a while–or maybe it's too much Kung Fu, but something about him really scares me.

    April 1, 2008 at 3:46 am |
  24. Seth

    it's all good. House MD pops Vicodin like 7 times a day and ends up saving lives.

    April 1, 2008 at 3:16 am |
  25. Jamie

    I actually find it pretty horrifying that this story makes the insinuation that patients should have the right to know if their physician is being treated for some kind of addiction. The way the article keeps saying, "...and they didn't even know their doctor was an addict!"(insert gasp here) seems to suggest that the patients should have been offered that information.
    I agree wholeheartedly that a board of some kind is necessary to oversee physicians and ensure (as best as they can) the doctors are fit to practice. And, if the doctors in this article were impaired when working with these patients, they should certainly meet justice. But, if... IF the complications from these ladies' surgeries are not the result of some binge, but rather one of those awful things that "just happen" – it sure won't matter to these doctors named in this article. Surely, they've now got quite a negative connotation with their names. Maybe even put them out of business. A person can be a recovering addict and work to their full ability.
    The story here is so much more that people want to shut down the assistance program rather than recognize its deficiencies and correct them. These doctors who are high at work ought to be suspended. But, there should be tools available to better monitor our doctors, not fewer tools!
    Still, it is highly improper to ask the medical experts in our society, our doctors, to reveal their own personal struggles. Particularly if the doctor has been properly deemed to be in recovery. We should encourage our health-care professionals to seek treatment for addictions and to continue with support programs. There is so much access to prescription meds that it should be a less taboo topic for doctors to seek help with.

    April 1, 2008 at 3:15 am |
  26. Jennifer

    As a registered nurse I would like to express my shared disapointment in CNN in the way it portrayed the story of the surgeon who attempted to recieve help for his problem. Fortunately, he had the bravery to recognize and attempt to seek treatment for his problem. Unfortunately, he was not a skilled surgeon, whether or not this is related to his addiction could turn into a heavy debate. Instead I would like to discourage the stigma associated with drug/alcohol addictions, leading many to mislable and mistreat those suffering with these problems. Furthermore, if the notion is that we draw the line on privacy rights when it affects someone else than we need to make transparent teacher's histories, police officiers histories, elected officials histories, air traffic controllers histories, and any one else who is a stakeholder for the saftey of others. This would be a hefty list to deal with, and a can of worms we don't want to open.

    April 1, 2008 at 3:06 am |
  27. Ben

    Does anyone think that maybe this guy is just a bad doctor regardless of the alcohol abuse? He ought to be revoked of his license to practice (which he will be after the great story on 360).

    April 1, 2008 at 3:06 am |
  28. Eli

    I have a family member who is a practicing physician and had a drug problem. Sadly, after her addiction came to light, lawyers began calling all of her patients looking for people who might want to sue her. Eventually they found someone, of course. Fighting this bogus witch hunt has nearly cost her her sanity.
    On a side note, to cut costs, Hospitals use sleep deprived residents for cheap labor. These physicians are often more impaired from sleep deprivation than ones who just popped a vycodin. This leads to far more medical mistakes than this more sensationalistic topic you are discussing.

    April 1, 2008 at 3:02 am |
  29. J.M.

    I am one of the patients on the show tonight. Some have asked "why it focused" on this one Dr? Well, that is because all 6 of us and Becky and many others ..were all hurt by this same man. Who else do we focus on except the man who hurt us? Whether or not he was actually drinking at the time of surgery, NONE of us would have chosen this man with a "history" of drinking problems...had we known. Why not? Did you see our scars, do you feel our pain, disappointment, and anger at the way our bodies look and feel? Would you choose this man? This story was not about just the diversion program and it's failure of all 3 audits, ..it's about us and what he did to us. We ALL got massive infections..why? He needs to be stopped. What if it was you?

    April 1, 2008 at 2:42 am |
  30. p

    Let's consider, for one moment, the laws regarding pilots of passenger air crafts; if pilots are caught under the influence of alcoho or – their license will be revoked – why? because the lives of people are in their hands. The same laws should apply for doctors who perform surgery under the influence of alcohol!

    April 1, 2008 at 2:27 am |
  31. Jeff

    For two centuries, practicing physicians have been regarded as folks who were godlike. They know science. In Jesus fashion, they cured common ailments. In the last century, they engaged in price discrimination at their own volition to treat poor patients at the expense of the rich patients based (presumably) on the hippocratic oath and the need to make ends meet.

    Medical pracxtitioners above nurses no longer have that respect from me, and have not for a long time. Their incompetance is empirically revealed every day in the news, and by the risk premiums on malpractice insurance that they so bemoan. Their economic profits (above and beyond opportunity cost, and which represent an aribtrary income transfer from either patient or government to them) are well revealed in any inspection of their incomes or any empirical study of same from serious economic analysis. Their priviledge in society, based n 100 or 200 year old legend prevails or we would not be reading this article and learning that they are performing "surgery" and are not serving time. But the big thing is that they killed my mother via incompetence . . . . I regard the medical profession as one beneath contempt for their arrogance, lack of attention, and their lies.

    I will die before seeking medical attention ever again.

    April 1, 2008 at 2:22 am |
  32. Linda

    I know personally of a best friend that died of cancer in terrible
    needless agony as her husband (a doctor) would not let the
    hospital give her prescribed medication (if he was around) to ease
    her pain. We, her friends, and nurses gave her as much as we
    could when he went for drugs to support his addiction. By the way,
    he was a neurosurgeon who was not practicing because of a
    terrible surgical mistake. Also, my mother had a doctor (0ncology)
    who was an alcohalic and the other doctors covered for him!

    April 1, 2008 at 2:20 am |
  33. Steve Brown

    Once again, Randi Kaye's piece is brilliant.
    As a fromer journalist, I am always conflicted with the response of fools, like some of thse on the blog, who do not see the simple truth.

    Drunk or stoned doctors should not be doctors. Period.
    They should have their licences revoked. Period.
    If they want their license back......I would want to know that they lost in in the first pace.
    Then they must prove to us they are worthy of the job and the significant income they earn.
    They should be sued when they screw up. Period..
    This abuse must be exposed. Period.

    When someone has a scalpel in their hands...there must be zero tolerance.

    Edit this as you wish.

    Randi....excellent work.

    April 1, 2008 at 2:14 am |
  34. Joan Day

    I had a plastic surgeon misposition my permanent breastimplant! It was situated under my arm, below the arnpit. He was not the least bit unset about it and got nasty when I asked why it happen. He told me he sees 50 people a day and why do I think he cares. When I wanted to sue no local lawyers would take the case. By the time I did get a lawyer,my dostor records had been altered. The first lawyer I saw said he knew the doctor and had consulted him on other malpractice suits. With altered records I had no case except for a new doctor who won't talk. Medical professionals are a close knit community. One won't trash another. There is no safeguard for patients! I applaud the lady who sued and won. I know how a bad surgeon can practice and not be held responsible. Drunk or not, doctors should be a held accountable for their surgeries.

    April 1, 2008 at 2:09 am |
  35. egh

    There is a lot to be depressed about in this piece, but I have to agree with others that its sensationalist nature is the most troubling. Let’s face it though… as long as we continue reading and watching, we can expect more of the same. I have begun going to the BBC more frequently and have appreciated the balanced, grounded coverage that I find there.

    April 1, 2008 at 2:09 am |
  36. NANCY


    April 1, 2008 at 2:02 am |
  37. Marie Uhl, MD

    This article is trite. People have infections after surgery. It's listed as a risk. Everyone thinks that medicine is perfect and nothing will ever go wrong. And no one should ever have a bad outcome. There are less talented surgeons, there are brilliant ones and even the brilliant ones will at some point have a bad outcome. This man's alcohol treatment had zero to do with this woman's wound infection. It's sad that some smarmy lawyer's dirt slinging attempts to link the two. People on here seem to think doctors make all sorts of money and "get away with murder". I would like someone to walk in the shoes of some of us who work 80 hours a week with poor reimbursement (not plastic surgeons) and 100k's of student loans who never see their families, who miss funerals and weddings and their children's events all to have ideals of helping humanity and healing the sick... and then people on here who think "we get away with murder" and have mistrust because they read tripe like this and all the other sensationalized events of a few bad examples hyped up by the media. It makes me sad.

    April 1, 2008 at 2:01 am |
  38. Kim

    This is absolutely crazy. It is funny how we have double standards. As a Nurse if a use or abuse drugs or alcohol not only do I lose my job I lose the ability to work as a nurse in any state. Why should we require and expect less from MD's. They are human too and obviously with faults.

    April 1, 2008 at 1:59 am |
  39. Brian

    Better example....we should just fire every doctor that smokes...sheesh why not..? thats an addiction isnt it...?

    April 1, 2008 at 1:56 am |
  40. Brian

    "Ken Mikulecky, who is working with West's former patients and the state attorney general on a petition to have his license revoked, is convinced his wife would have had a better chance of surviving had her doctor not been an addict."

    So, lets say a doctor lost a leg in the war, has recovered and now is practicing medicine with a false leg. Would Mr. Ken say then, my wife would have a better chance of surviving had our doctor had both of his real legs....pleeeeease.

    April 1, 2008 at 1:53 am |
  41. Linda Starr

    The report tonight by Anderson Cooper was very constrained. The problem is much worse than people could comprehend. What is really going on is more than we can accept as possible as noted in several blogs.

    Dr. West is not alone. There are many more in the diversion program who belong beside him. Because of the secrecy, it is virtually impossible to discover them. The patients who are harmed are told they are the only patient they have had a bad outcome with, knowing there are risks, we believe this.

    I believed I was just an unlucky percentage of bad outcomes. Later I found out I was far from unlucky, I was one of many. In fact my doctor continued to encounter the same bad outcomes, identical to mine, over and over again. When I was near death, I begged him to never let another patient go through what I did. Promise that he would never again let an infection go untreated so long. But after me can Ken's wife. Our outcomes nearly identical. I barely survived. She died. How did Ken allow him to operate after his wife said she smelled alcohol? Surely it was a mistake, or certainly not a signal that he was a bad doctor. We put a higher trust in what the doctors tell us. We don't want to believe they would be negligent with us.

    Surely, if they were negligent or troubled with drug or alcohol abuse, their colleagues would report them? Not if their fellow doctors are concerned about being judged by their own use of alcohol. Why don't the doctors value their own reputations more. Just like some criticisms here, we don't want to be putting the good doctors in the same barrel as the problem ones. I don't understand the blind protection and disbelief of criticism against doctors.

    My oncology surgeon gave the highest recommendation for Dr. West to perform a tissue reconstruction after my mastectomy. I did not consider this a personal whim for physical perfection. To me it was essential. I asked the right questions and researched as best I could the reputation of Dr. West. He was a charming, confident doctor who lied about his credentials, but was still recommended without hesitation.

    After the surgery at some point when my condition went south, that same referring oncologist told me I was Dr. West's problem and would not see me further. In fact no other doctors would see Dr. West's patients so we had to continue seeing him for infections and multiple attempts at corrective and/or life-saving procedures. Not all of us lived.

    The California Diversion program's focus is to leave the doctors in practice. They do not require them to reduce or discontinue practice no matter how many complaints have been made against them. The doctors, who are ill, are creative and effective in fooling the monitors they do get. If it was a contest, the doctors are ahead and the program is claiming success when there is no success.

    How many patients should be allowed to be disfigured and die? I like Ken's wife was not able to get the follow-up chemo and my cancer metastesized. It could not be put in remission. I struggle to live with the side effects of chemotherapy, the pain of the cancer, depression over the massive scarring, while my doctor continued and continues to treat patients. Patients he treated in Los Angeles in 2008 well after the Medical Review Board and the Diversion program was informed of the existence of a high incidence of bad outcomes by this doctor.

    Still in Diversion, still protected unknowing patients were harmed. When I found about the process for notifying the Medical Review Board about my doctor's negligence, I presented a claim. Even though an expert for Medical Review Board reported that my doctor was so negligent he should not have been performing the procedure, my claim was dropped after the statute ran while being processed and under control of members of the California Medical Association. That, too, is business as usual. How do bad doctors keep their licenses in the face of gross negligence whether by reason of drugs, alcohol, mental disease or poor abilities? THEY ARE PROTECTED.

    They are people, people with imperfections, people who take lives in their hands. Some bloggers seem to propose we should allow drivers who mangle and kill while driving under the influence to be allowed to continue to drive before completing rehab. We shouldn't take their licenses. They need to drive to provide for their families. They might be truck drivers, bus drivers, airplane pilots after all. They need to continue to drive, but we take their licenses. Nurses are not allowed to keep on the job while fighting their demons.

    I agree with one comment - it's hard to figure whether they are better in surgery while intoxicated than hung over, or in a hurry to get their next drink or fix. But doctors in diversion are ill. They do not make good decisions. They should not be given a free license to kill.
    Most of the doctors, admitted by the CMA, nearly all in the diversion enter to avoid a punishment after something causes them to be discovered - such as a DUI. THEY DON'T ENTER TO GET HELP. THEY ENTER TO GET PROTECTION.

    I'm not sorry that I do not consider doctors more valuable than patients. I believe patients have a right to competent medical professionals to treat them. Doctors should take more pride in their own profession and help weed out compromised doctors instead of adding to the problem.

    There is a Senator in California who is working toward re-instating a Diversion program with the same guidelines and secrecy of the previous failed program. Within the guidelines of the Diversion Program there are no considerations made to check on how well the doctors are performing while under their protection - no patient protections of any kind. It's all about protection for the physicians.

    If I was caught driving under the influence, I would sure like to have a program like that to protect me. Doctors have two licenses. One to practice medicine and one to kill and injure. No one can find out about negligence by doctors in Diversion - not even a warrant from a court can force negligent acts to be revealed.

    April 1, 2008 at 1:50 am |
  42. Vernon Kraus, M.D.

    The kindest words I can use to describe tonight's presentation are "tabloid journalism at its best." As a physician in long term recovery, I was very disappointed at the absence of rational, informative discussion about addiction and recovery. An excellent opportunity to inform the public was squandered.

    As others have pointed out, virtually no diversion program begins without the subject undergoing extensive evaluation and treatment of some kind. No physician in rehab is allowed to practice medicine. Reporting of impaired physicians by those professionals working with him is extensive and effective, and, yes, once a physician is in good recovery, he's more than qualified to resume his/her career. In the many years since I resumed mine, most all of my long term patients became quite aware of my history. It was also quite public on the State Medical Board's website.

    Mr. Cooper, you flubbed this one badly.

    April 1, 2008 at 1:49 am |
  43. Lorin Jones

    Dr. West is a disgrace to medicine, plain and simple. The California Medical Board is a disgrace in protecting the public. My wife died from a stem cell transplant in Dallas and the major hospital that provided her care blew dust and dirt into her room while she was totally immune compromised. They overdosed her on Tylenol time and time again, and presented an exhibit of faulty and complacent care and lack of protection that could have been improved upon in any third world country. I truly believe she would not have been in any greater danger had they treated her in a bed set up on main street in downtown Dallas. Her care was truly that bad. Her treatment cost the insurance company a fortune, but it cost my wife her life after 74 horrible days of suffering. Our healthcare in this nation is a disgrace. In most cases the healthcare facilities fight every step of the way to keep from implementing treatments and programs that could help save and protect patients, if it affects in any way, their bottom line. The hospital that killed my wife is an example and Dr. West is an example of the type of physician that is heartless and has no concern for any person except himself. I applaud every patient advocate out there for working for change because our government will never get it accomplished for us. I hope all of us take our nation's medical meltdown seriously, for we may someday suffer as my wife suffered, or be placed under the knife of a man like Dr. West, without even knowing what a druggie and butcher he is. Heaven forbid. We know for certain the state won't inform us about him. They just keep letting him cut away, probably stumbling around the entire time. Physicians, or nurses or any other medical caregiver are entitled to treatment for addiction, but they should absolutely be forbid from treating patients until their treatment is proven successful and their presence in the healthcare setting no longer presents an endangerment to innocent lives. There are good doctors and even good hospitals, but there are far too many who don't care about patient safety in the least. That is why we need protection. Sadly, the states and the Federal Government will never give us that protection until our voices are too powerful to be ignored. Your safety and your life is at stake whether you comprehend it or not.

    April 1, 2008 at 1:48 am |
  44. Dr. Smith

    It appears CNN is not in the business of filtering misinformation about "Addict Doctors" in this country today. Maybe the Truth is not as much fun as is a partial Truth...or even a lie. Most can't tell what is real and what is CNN today, we know, too. What was told, and directly inferred, is entirely incorrect...and I am a A & D Treatment Physician...as far as the vast majority of "Recoverying Physicians" in this country so goes. CNN may need to learn, like most folks, how to seperate emotions from facts when dealing with deadly serious issues – like "Addiction". But emotions drive most media today, without question...so you can easily figure this one out.

    Of course, No one wants an "active alcoholic" or "addict" practicing medicine – of any kind, any where, much less doing "Surgery" (which makes for a more sensational splash of a story), of course. On the other hand there is a 180 degree (not 360, like Anderson Cooper believes) difference between those practicing Recovery for their Addiction vs. so few refusing to get help while steaming on ahead in their disease, all alone. If the story about Brian West, MD is even true (and more than likely many parts were twisted to make the story emotionally juicy), then he needs to get into Recovery and discontinue practice until such time as he has been declared "very stable in Recovery" by his State's Professionals in charge of what should be a highly functional "Physician's Health Program" (or "Diversion Program")...and all will tend to be well. These Programs in all 50 States are the Savior of hundreds of thousands of Doctors and Patients, not the cause of these types of problems aired on CNN this evening! And if Dr. West just has difficulty operating – even on a good day (prior to ever having started drinking) – then Recovery won't help that problem, of course, and he should switch professions to Dermatology or Pathology or whatever. That, too, should be up to a proper oversight of peer reviewing professionals who have as their only goal the Oath they took to uphold the first and foremost priority in medicine: The Patient.

    Speculation...all this is; no one at CNN apparently did the research to find out the truth about this difficult issue and emotional case. They probably wouldn't understand it if the Truth were placed in front of them on a silver platter; most don't understand "Addiction" as it is a most Elusive & Tricky Disease...yet, most aren't out broadcasting emotional misinformation over the air waves, as well, are they? Journalists need to be accurate, not just emotionally sensational. That concept (i.e. Truth) seems to have been lost inside this nation years ago, unfortunately. Certainly all of the Prime Time News Shows don't care one iota about it, apparently. Putting together such an inflammatory piece of misinformation full of slamming twists toward all "Recovering Addicts" unlike anything I've ever seen on TV before, is total hogwash and an embarrassment to what CNN ought to stand for. The part where it all centers around a "Doctor" seems to make it all O.K. to do – for the safety of the public, of course – whichh is so inviting for the nightly bashing CNN is so known for doing, to someone.

    Get a grip Anderson. You're way out of bounds on this one. You owe your viewers an apology...when you are able to know the truth about this particular issue. Go interview the professionals at Atlanta's "Talbott-Marsh Recovery Center". They can give you some proper truthful information about the disease of "Addiction" you just misaligned for the nation!

    April 1, 2008 at 1:48 am |
  45. joe

    In America, if you get a DUI, your life OVER? It's a misdemeanor, NOT a felony. Try getting a job with a DUI. The stigma behind it is incredible. It's haunting.

    For those who drink and drive, YOU are lucky. You just haven't got caught. You know who you are. Yes, YOU!!! A couple of cocktails for brunch. A couple of drinks at happy hour. A couple of drinks at the game, the bachelor party, the baby shower, the wedding, the graduation, the funeral. A couple of drinks on Friday after work, on July 4th, on St. Patrick's Day, on Memorial Day, on Christmas Day on New Year's Eve.

    If ALL the people who drove above the legal limit were actually caught, there would be millions of arrests, millions of people with DUIs on their record.

    I would love to see a Senate Bill enacted where EVERY SINGLE person filling out a job application would have to take a polygraph test and have to answer the question: Have you ever been drunk while driving a motor vehicle? Do you know how many people would fail? Most members of Congress. Most teachers. Most doctors. Most university graduates. Most actors. Most fire fighters. Most police officers.

    Are you kidding me?

    How about CNN doing a story about HOPE? Showing the people who have had DUIs in the past who do incredible things at work and with their career. Just because you have a DUI, doesn't mean that you can't function in society.

    Love to hear more comments about the repercussions of a DUI and how it affected YOUR job.

    April 1, 2008 at 1:35 am |
  46. Brian

    Ok ...so the wife said she could smell alcohol on his breathe? Was this after she learn about the DUI's 20 YEARS AGO! ? Even so....why would someone in their right mind continue to be treated by a doctor like this...I dont believe her or what she said to her husband. Unless she is a complete idiot along with her husband for not doing anything about it, i wont believe it. I think shes looking for someone to blame because the treatment didnt go as well as she expected. The doctor settled in court because he knew he had a history and there is nothing he could do about that, but people change. I mean, what would we do without doctors. Im sick of hearing about all these stupid mal-practice lawsuits. Nothing is guaranteed in medicine, so do your homework and never lose hope.

    April 1, 2008 at 1:35 am |
  47. Patient Advocates USA


    You're right. Sadly, doctors are treated differently than you. Doctors who abuse drugs or alcohol are treated differently than any other citizen. Why is this? They take the "HIPPOCRATIC OATH," to first do "NO HARM," to who????? To themselves or to the Patients?

    They should be suspended from practice, until they can prove SOBRIETY.....read and judge for yourself.......

    Google..."Arizona Medical Board Hands Off Approach to relapsed Addict Physician is endangering Patients"

    April 1, 2008 at 1:28 am |
  48. Patient Advocates USA

    Dui and any arrest are public record.. ..Please check your doctors' record in public records under civil and criminial case index in each county he/she works in.

    April 1, 2008 at 1:21 am |
  49. Janet

    A few years back my doctors were found liable for medical fraud and concealment. AB2571 was then signed into law born out of my medical nightmare. My story came out this year in my book titled, Taking a Stand.
    Just as my doctor's committed fraud and concealment–I feel that the Medical Board of California has taken part in concealing a condition that could compromise health care through their Diversion program. I was lied to, so has each patient who goes into surgery believing that their doctor is at his best, not using or intoxicated–trusting that the Medical Board who is charged to protect them–was doing so. My medical records were altered, a year removed. Not until my doctor confessed his mistakes 10 surgeries and 15 years after the fact did I know there was a problem. Yet the California Medical Board has known all along of the failures in operating their own Diversion program. It was not until the patients seen tonight went to speak at a Ca Medical Board meeting and the media got wind did this board vote to end this nightmare.
    Now we must look forward in how to both protect patients and provide a situation for doctor's to get the help that they need. Any ideas?

    April 1, 2008 at 1:13 am |
  50. Ken, MD

    As a recovering physician, this was a disturbing news program to watch. This piece brought up many feelings and thoughts for me. God willing, I will have 5 years of sobriety and RECOVERY in April of this year.
    NO physician who is impaired, whether as a single event or an ongoing history, should be allowed to practice medicine. This being said, diversion and physican recovery programs do work. I was glad to see that the 80% success rate for physicians in such programs was mentioned. Physicians do recover from addictions and return to successful practice. I agree with B. Wilson's posting on the requirements of a diversion program, because I must live with them everyday. Submitting to these requirements is a testament, for me, to my professional obligations and to my obligations for being a better person. These requirements are bittersweet, but they do help me maintain my sobriety and recovery and have allowed me to become a much better physician and person.
    I feel that a distinction between impariment , active addiction and recovery must be understood. In my mind, impairment is simply being under the influence of or recovering from the effects of mood altering substances. Here again, this can be transient or ongoing. Addiction refers to the continued use of substances (here alcohol & drugs) despite negative consequences, i.e. personal, professional, legal, financial, etc. Aside from the physical and psychological characteristics of addiction, it is a disease of the spirit. Recovery is the process of not only getting and staying clean and sober, but also a healing of the spirit. It is process of examining the what and why of the past, amending what has occurred (if possible), taking responsibility for the self, and moving on as a better person. I sincerely hope I have enbraced these aspects in my own recovery.
    I wholeheartedly agree that physicians are people too. We should be allowed to prosper and perish from our actions just as any other person would. However, we are held to a higher standard of conduct by virtue of our training and skills. Is this fair? Frankly, I'm not smart enough to figure this one out, but it is part of the package of being called a physician.
    There is so much that can be said on this subject. What happened to Dr. West's patients, if because of his alcohol use, was and is tragic and without excuse. Nothing has ever brought me to my knees like addiction, and nothing has been as uplifting as recovery. The public needs to be protected from physicians in active addiction. Physicians in active addiction need the chance to recover if they so desire. This is but a brief glimse of one recovering physician's thoughts.

    April 1, 2008 at 12:57 am |
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