Laura Faitro of Simi Valley died July 26, 2010, five days after surgery at Valley Surgical Center in West Hills. Three other patients have died shortly after surgery at an associated center in Beverly Hills, relatives have alleged in lawsuits and interviews.
Prospective patients are referred to surgery clinics after calling a toll-free number that is advertised on Southern California billboards, buses, on television and through direct mail, said Robert Silverman, an attorney who represents the two clinics and 1-800-GET-THIN, which advertises on Southern California billboards, buses, on television and through direct mail. The Lap-Band is a silicone ring that is surgically fitted over part of the stomach to discourage overeating.
Faitro, 50, was in intense pain after the July 21 surgery and sought follow-up treatment at Simi Valley Hospital, where she died, said her husband, John Faitro. He filed a medical malpractice and wrongful death lawsuit Feb. 3 against surgeons Ihsan Shamaan and Kevork George Tashjian, 1-800-GET-THIN, Valley Surgical Center, Simi Valley Hospital and doctors who treated her there.
Faitro's liver was lacerated three times during the Lap-Band procedure at Valley Surgical Center, but she was discharged from the surgery center several hours later without being informed of the injury, according to the lawsuit. Faitro's death certificate lists heart failure as the cause of death, with liver laceration and morbid obesity as contributing factors.
An autopsy report said Faitro had more than 3 liters of bloody fluid in her abdominal cavity. Before her death, doctors at Simi Valley Hospital had diagnosed her with sepsis, a bacterial infection of the bloodstream, in her abdomen, according to the autopsy report last year by the Ventura County coroner. She had been treated with antibiotics, the report said.
In an interview, John Faitro said he was upset that the surgeons at Valley Surgical Center did not tell his wife that her liver had been lacerated during the Lap-Band procedure. He said he is blind, diabetic and a kidney dialysis patient, and that his wife was his principal caretaker.
"They took my wife away and they keep doing these surgeries like nothing happened," he said. "If they would have just told me [that her liver had been cut] I would have called the paramedics."
Silverman blamed Faitro's death on advanced heart disease and the care she received at Simi Valley Hospital after the surgery. He said the Lap-Band device was properly implanted.
"There is no reason to comment on the liver laceration as it was not a cause of death," Silverman said in an e-mail statement.
He continued, "It would appear that Ms. Faitro died of non-Lap Band related issues due to her extremely poor overall health condition."
Faitro's surgeons, Shamaan and Tashjian, could not be reached for comment. A spokeswoman for Simi Valley Hospital declined to discuss the lawsuit.
John Faitro said his wife, who was 5 feet 6 and weighed about 250 pounds, began gaining weight 25 years ago when he lost his eyesight from diabetes. "She was a stressful eater. She loved tacos and sometimes ice cream," he said.
She had been looking forward to the surgery for months, her husband said.
"She thought it would be so awesome, just to put on clothes off the rack in the store. She wanted to work out with me. When you get big it's hard to work out," John Faitro said. "It was hard for her to go for walks. She thought she'd be able to do it a lot easier, have a lot more energy."
Three other Lap-Band patients -- Ana Renteria, 33, of Norwalk; Tamara Walter, 52, of Lawndale; and Willie Brooks, 35, of Perris -- have died in the last two years, all shortly after undergoing implantation surgery at a clinic on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. The Medical Board of California is investigating the care that surgeon Atul Madan provided to Renteria and Walter, according to correspondence from the medical board to relatives of the two women.
Those deaths have also prompted legal action. Renteria's family last week filed a lawsuit accusing Madan, the 1-800-GET-THIN marketing company and others of contributing to her death. Last year, Brooks' family sued the clinic owners and surgeon Tashjian, who also helped perform Faitro's surgery. The Brooks lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial in June. Tashjian and other defendants have denied wrongdoing.
Relatives of Renteria and Faitro filed an additional lawsuit Feb. 4 against 1-800-GET-THIN claiming that its ad campaign was misleading. The lawsuit seeks class-action status. The families accused the marketing company of false advertising for allegedly failing to provide adequate warnings about the risk of the surgery and for failing to tell patients that the clinics were operated by two brothers, Julian and Michael Omidi, who had been accused of misconduct by the state medical board.