BUSINESS

Combing through a hair treatment that went bad

Man pays $2,200 for hair-replacement procedure. After 10 months, he sees no new hair. Now he can't get refund
Estimated global market for hair restoration surgeries is worth almost $2 billion, up 48% since 2008
U.S. accounts for 40% of hair surgeries worldwide, with men representing 89% of patients

Shlomo Brooks might want to consider himself lucky that his biggest problem with a West Los Angeles hair-replacement clinic is that his hair isn't any thicker.

At least that's my feeling after looking into Brooks' dealings with a man who now faces criminal charges of impersonating a doctor and was sued as part of a wrongful death civil case involving a former patient.

Brooks, 72, said he paid $2,200 last year at a place called Medical Hair Replacement Center for a procedure intended to address thinning hair on the front and sides of his head.

He waited almost a year for improvement but saw no appreciable difference in his appearance. Brooks said he went back to the clinic and asked for his money back. They blew him off, he said.

"They said they'd stand by the procedure," Brooks told me. "Now they won't even respond to my letters."

Maybe a lack of accessibility is common among hair-replacement professionals. I had my own difficulties chasing down not just the guy Brooks dealt with but others in the field.

It should come as no surprise, considering the region's commitment to looking good, that there are dozens of hair-replacement facilities in Southern California, many clustered in and around Beverly Hills.

The International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery, a trade group, estimates that the global market for such procedures is worth almost $2 billion, up 48% since 2008 — a sign, perhaps, that once the recession ended, so did many people's patience with thinning hair.

The United States accounts for 40% of hair surgeries worldwide, the organization says, with men representing 89% of those seeking medical assistance for one of nature's crueler acts.

Brooks, of West L.A., counted himself among that number. After dying his graying hair black for about 20 years, he decided last September that his painted locks had grown too sparse. He looked to science for a solution.

Most of the hair-restoration clinics he visited quoted a price near $4,000 for various types of procedures, ranging from transplants to plugs.

Finally, Brooks said, he stopped by Medical Hair Replacement Center, near the corner of Robertson and Olympic boulevards, where he met a man named John A. Lord, who identified himself as the owner.

"He was a charmer," Brooks said. "A real smoothie."

He said Lord quoted a price of $2,500 but then discounted it to $2,200.

The procedure offered was called a follicular unit extraction, which consists of moving one or two strands of hair at a time from one part of the scalp to another.

"Lord said that after the grafts were done, they'd grow out in about eight months," Brooks recalled. "I waited 10 months and then I got worried. No hairs grew. Not one that I could see."

Worse, he said, his hair didn't grow back fully on the parts of his scalp that were shaved for the treatment.

Brooks said he visited the clinic in June but was unable to meet with either Lord or the doctor who'd performed the procedure, identified by Brooks as Milton Miller, who did not return a call for comment.

He said he was told by a staffer that there was nothing that could be done to address his complaints. He wrote a letter last month requesting a refund. No answer.

So Brooks came my way. And I started turning over rocks.

Lord has a checkered past with the legal system. In 2007, he was named as a defendant in a civil case filed in L.A. Superior Court contending that a man named Walter Riley, 52, died at a clinic owned by Lord during what should have been a routine hair transplant.

According to the complaint, filed by members of Riley's family, Lord's staff failed to counteract "improperly administered medications" and failed to summon emergency help in a timely manner.

The doctor who performed the procedure, David Larkin, agreed in 2008 to pay $300,000 to settle the charges against him in connection with Riley's death, according to court documents. His license to practice medicine has been revoked, according to the Medical Board of California.

Larkin couldn't be reached for comment.

The case against Lord was dismissed after he filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection a few weeks after Larkin's settlement, court documents show.

In June, the L.A. district attorney's office said, Lord was charged with two felony counts of practicing medicine without a license. He pleaded not guilty to both charges. A preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled for Thursday.

Neither Lord nor his lawyer could be reached for comment.

I visited the clinic where Brooks' hair procedure was performed. It was the middle of a weekday afternoon, but the office was closed. Covering the windows were large signs declaring "Hair cloning and transplants" and "Get your hair back."

There also was a sign for the doctor now working out of the clinic, Fred Garcia. It says he specializes in pain management, weight-loss treatments and "anti-aging medicine," and will evaluate patients for a medical marijuana prescription.

I was unable to reach Garcia, but his website, DrGarciaQuantumHealing.com, outlines his belief that quantum physics and "zero-point energy" point the way toward advanced healing techniques.

"The zero-point field is the new frontier of medicine," he writes. "Healing modalities which incorporate a zero-point field approach will prove to be wildly successful. And soon, zero-point field energy will be widely understood by society."

Garcia says his "unified field equation" — Q = g 1/2 m 1/2 — is the "equation of everything" and "brings all matter and energy together."

I eventually reached a man named Jay Oushana, who said he purchased Medical Hair Replacement Center from Lord last month, brought in Garcia and changed the name to Quantum Healing Services.

He said that even though he has no experience with hair replacement, he saw the acquisition as a good investment.

Oushana said he receives about two calls a day from Lord's former customers, for whom he said he assumes no responsibility.

"I have nothing to do with what Lord may have done," Oushana said.

So I asked what advice he had for Brooks, who paid $2,200 and received assurances that his hair would become thicker and more lustrous.

Oushana said he wouldn't refund Brooks' money, but would be willing to provide one or two free "laser treatments" for his scalp.

I shared that with Brooks, who declined the offer.

"If I can't get my money back," he said, "I won't waste my time."

David Lazarus' column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He also can be seen daily on KTLA-TV Channel 5 and followed on Twitter @Davidlaz. Send your tips or feedback to david.lazarus@latimes.com.

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