Lap-Band patient sues 1-800-GET-THIN after post-surgery complications

A Bakersfield woman has sued Lap-Band marketing firm 1-800-GET-THIN and several healthcare providers after complications from a 2011 weight-loss surgery forced doctors to remove her stomach.

Natalie Swaim alleges that surgeons negligently implanted her Lap-Band weight-loss device, causing her stomach to lose blood supply and the tissue to die. The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, also seeks damages from a Bakersfield hospital that treated Swaim in 2012 after complications surfaced.

Swaim had the Lap-Band surgery in June 2011 at Valley Surgical Center, a West Hills outpatient clinic affiliated with the 1-800-GET-THIN marketing firm. 1-800-GET-THIN advertised Lap-Band procedures on Southern California freeway billboards, radio, television and the Internet, but pulled most of the ads this year after receiving a warning from the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA deemed the ads misleading because they failed to include adequate warnings about Lap-Band surgery risks.

The Lap-Band is a silicone tube surgically implanted around the stomach to discourage patients from overeating and help them lose weight. Five patients died shortly after Lap-Band surgeries at clinics affiliated with 1-800-GET-THIN from 2009 to 2011, including two who had the surgery at Valley Surgical Center.

Swaim, 43, sought medical treatment in November and again in January after experiencing abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, the lawsuit said. Doctors eventually found internal bleeding, a prolapsed stomach, and tissue death and surgically removed her stomach in January, the lawsuit said.

She underwent numerous subsequent procedures to reconstruct her gastrointestinal system and now has a pouch the size of a quarter that "barely resembles a stomach," the lawsuit said.

In addition to 1-800-GET-THIN, the lawsuit seeks damages from Valley Surgical Center and several doctors involved in the surgery. It also names Michael and Julian Omidi as defendants, saying they "own and control each of the outpatient surgery centers" linked to 1-800-GET-THIN.

Further, the lawsuit accuses Bakersfield Memorial Hospital of failing to properly diagnose and treat her when she initially sought treatment for the post-surgery complications.

Konrad Trope, an attorney who represents the Omidis and the surgery centers, said in an email that the initial surgery was performed properly and that the Bakersfield hospital was responsible for Swaim's problems.

"It is clearly alleged that Bakersfield Memorial Hospital and its inadequate medical team were immediately at fault for her medical complications," Trope said. "There are no allegations in the lawsuit showing any causal connection between my clients and Ms. Swaim's medical complications."

A spokeswoman for Bakersfield Memorial, citing concerns about patient privacy, declined to comment about the allegations.

"Patient care and safety are always our highest priority at Bakersfield Memorial Hospital. Consistent with patient privacy laws and hospital policy, we respect our patients' privacy by not discussing the specifics of their care," said Robin Mangarin-Scott, the hospital's spokeswoman.

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