A California doctor was disciplined for DUIs. Now he’s accused of gross negligence
The Medical Board of California has revoked Dr. Kevin Ciresi’s license twice in the last five years, only to stay the orders and place the Fresno plastic surgeon on probation.
Both sanctions related to Ciresi’s history of alcohol abuse, which includes five drunk-driving convictions since 2004. Though not directly tied to patient care, his multiple DUIs are “substantially related to the qualifications, functions, or duties of a physician,” according to state law, and constitute unprofessional conduct.
In short, the board could have taken Ciresi’s medical license.
Instead, as it routinely does in disciplining doctors, it took a more lenient tack, allowing him to continue practicing under conditions that include random urine tests twice a week and quarterly blood draws.
But last year the board accused Ciresi of gross negligence and is now seeking to revoke his probation and his license after one patient died and another suffered permanent brain damage following operations he performed on them.
Ciresi is among at least four doctors who were accused of gross negligence for seriously harming patients after being formally disciplined, according to a Times analysis of board records dating to 2008.
Resources are available, but checking your doctor’s track record can be difficult. Here are some tips.
Ciresi, 64, declined to comment for this article. The medical board also declined, saying it does not discuss pending cases.
Since 2015, Ciresi has been employed by Athenix Physicians Group, which is under contract with Northwest Surgical Development Co. Inc. to provide services at its five surgery centers. Northwest Surgical defended Ciresi and said in a statement that “extraordinary measures” are in place to protect his patients, including the board-ordered urine and blood tests and breathalyzer testing as often as three times a day, with “not a single verified positive result.”
“No evidence has been presented in any court case or by the Medical Board that Dr. Ciresi has operated on or interacted with a patient with even a remote trace of alcohol in his system,” the statement said.
The statement noted that Ciresi has performed more than 4,000 surgeries at the Athenix Body Sculpting Institute in Fresno. But it did not directly address the board’s pending negligence allegations.
“Other questions about Dr. Ciresi’s medical practices and decision-making will be addressed at a hearing before the Medical Board this fall and we are confident the Board will conclude after the hearing that Dr. Ciresi exceeded the standard of care in the cases at issue,” it said.
In September 2019, two months after his second probation order, Ciresi performed a tummy tuck and liposuction on Jessica Cortez after ignoring her signs of infection and failing to assess her cardiac condition, according to the medical board‘s allegations.
A “high risk” patient with diabetes, Cortez was moaning loudly and “thrashing about” in bed in the recovery room after the Sept. 24, 2019, surgery, with an elevated heart rate and high blood pressure, the board’s records state.
Ciresi stabilized her pulse and blood pressure and sent her home, where her husband found her later that day, unresponsive and in cardiac arrest, the records state.
She died the next morning.
Cortez, 38, is described only as “Patient D” in medical board records but is identified by name in a pending wrongful-death lawsuit her husband has filed against Ciresi and Athenix in Fresno County Superior Court. The complaint does not allege that he was under the influence at the time of the surgery.
Serious malpractice leading to the loss of limbs, paralysis and the deaths of patients wasn’t enough for the California Medical Board to stop these bad doctors from continuing to practice medicine.
Cortez’s death is among five alleged cases of gross negligence or repeated negligent acts the medical board cited last November in its formal accusation seeking to revoke Ciresi’s probation.
It marked the latest in a series of disciplinary actions involving Ciresi, who has been on the board’s radar since at least November 2002, when it reprimanded him for reasons that are not specified in public records.
In the nearly two decades since then, Ciresi has accumulated five drunk-driving convictions, the most recent in 2018, medical board records show.
California Department of Motor Vehicles records show that Ciresi’s driver’s license was suspended from June 20, 2015, to Jan. 28, 2019, but do not indicate the offense that prompted it.
In November 2015, after one of his arrests, the board suspended Ciresi’s medical license but stayed the suspension and allowed him to continue to practice, as long as he met certain conditions that included abstaining from alcohol and submitting to the alcohol-testing protocols.
The next year, Cheri Myers, 53, went to Ciresi for a face-lift at the Athenix surgery center in Fresno. She nearly died after the operation.
San Diego spinal surgeon Lokesh Tantuwaya was indicted by the feds for fraud and is in jail awaiting trial. But his medical license is still active.
On Oct. 25, 2016, a certified registered nurse anesthetist put Myers under general sedation. Shortly thereafter, Ciresi injected her face and neck with a local anesthetic and within two minutes her heart stopped and she was no longer breathing, according to medical board records and her lawsuit.
Paramedics managed to revive Myers, but it was too late: She suffered permanent brain damage that will require round-the-clock care for the rest of her life.
“As a result of this incident, Cheri Myers has ‘global severe memory problems’ where she cannot often remember people, accurately state where she was and why, and will talk about things that are not occurring,” her lawsuit states.
Ciresi said in court filings that Myers was aware of the risks and potential complications of her surgery and that she was stricken by a “sudden temporary weakening of the muscular portion of the heart” known as takotsubo cardiomyopathy.
Myers and her husband, Richard, settled their lawsuit against Ciresi and Athenix for $3.7 million in 2018, court records show, with no admissions of liability.
Other patients have sued Ciresi for negligence and malpractice, claiming a variety of botched surgeries, including breast augmentations in which he allegedly punctured implants, or used the wrong size, or placed them improperly, only to have them emerge from surgical wounds or cause disfigurement.
Ciresi prevailed in at least two of the malpractice lawsuits, while others settled with confidential agreements and at least half a dozen are pending, according to court records and online dockets.
Dr. Ciresi on a consistent basis while treating Plaintiff was hung-over, had bloodshot eyes, had shaky hands, had speech difficulties, was irritable and impatient, purposely made himself unavailable and had a foul odor of cigarettes which masked the alcohol.
— Shelby Lowery alleges in her lawsuit against Dr. Kevin Ciresi
One patient, Modesto resident Shelby Lowery, accused him of being under the influence of alcohol while treating her.
“Dr. Ciresi on a consistent basis while treating Plaintiff was hung over, had bloodshot eyes, had shaky hands, had speech difficulties, was irritable and impatient, purposely made himself unavailable and had a foul odor of cigarettes which masked the alcohol,” her lawsuit alleged.
Ciresi’s attorneys vehemently disputed that allegation, noting in court papers that he is monitored up to three times a day by a computerized breathalyzer known as Soberlink. Attached to their court filing were negative test results for the days he operated on or treated Lowery, whose lawsuit is pending. Ciresi’s lawyers are seeking sanctions against Lowery and her attorney for making the impairment allegation in an amended complaint, with a hearing set for November.
“The events involving his consumption of alcohol involve drinking and driving,” his attorneys wrote in court papers.
Ciresi’s alcohol abuse includes DUI convictions in 2004, 2006 and 2008, medical board records state.
In February 2015, a California Highway Patrol officer found Ciresi in the driver’s seat of a BMW stopped on a freeway offramp in Fresno, blocking traffic. The doctor, still in scrubs, told the officer that he had consumed “five to six shots” of Irish whiskey in 45 minutes before driving 170 miles or so from Sacramento to Fresno, where he ran out of gas on the ramp.
Subscribers get early access to this story
We’re offering L.A. Times subscribers first access to our best journalism. Thank you for your support.
Ciresi registered a blood-alcohol content of 0.21% on a breathalyzer, nearly three times California’s legal limit of 0.08%. He pleaded no contest to driving under the influence in February 2017.
Less than a year later, in January 2018 in south Orange County, Ciresi offered a credit card to the police officer who pulled him over and asked for his driver’s license. That time, his blood-alcohol level registered 0.25%, board records state. He pleaded guilty to a drunk-driving charge in October 2018 and served a month in jail.
Shortly after his release in early 2019, a random drug test detected alcohol in his system, a finding that Ciresi refuted with the results of lie-detector and hair tests he said proved he had not consumed alcohol.
The medical board issued a cease practice order, but lifted it a month later, when Ciresi successfully completed 30 days of drug and alcohol testing. That July, the board again revoked Ciresi’s license, but stayed the action and placed him on probation for seven years.
In November 2020, it sought to revoke his license, citing the Cortez and Myers cases, and three other cases of alleged gross negligence or repeated negligent acts.
The action is pending.
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.