Kanye West’s Mother and Surgical Risks.

Earlier this year the life of rapper Kanye West’s mom ended tragically after undergoing a cosmetic surgery procedure.  This is an unfortunate and tragic event and besides the personal tragedy it also brought light to many other aspects of cosmetic surgery.

First of all, it shows that there is risk with any surgery.  Every year, patients die during or after surgery and anesthesia.  Some patients are sick and the high risk of surgery and anesthesia was known.  Some patients were perfectly healthy and some very unusual event occurred.  Some of these events are the fault of the surgeon, anesthesia personnel or hospital staff.  Some of these events are the fault of an undiagnosed health problem.  I recently read of a completely 16 year old patient who had a rare and undiagnosed cardiac condition and died during a tonsillectomy.  No one, the patient, hospital or surgeon had any idea that such a problem existed.  The bottom line is that any surgery, cosmetic or otherwise, carries some risk of complications including death.

When Mrs. West passed away the night of her surgery, every news station and tabloid show hovered tightly over “the dangers of cosmetic surgery”.  Allegations flew faster than speeding bullets and finger pointing started early.  Dr. Jan Adams, the celebrity plastic surgeon on TV was the biggest target.  This famous surgeon was used to being in the limelight and was suddenly cast into cold darkness.  The finger of blame pointed directly at Dr. Adams even though not official cause of death was determined.  He was tried, sentenced and executed by the media.  What’s more, his own people turned on him.  Organized plastic surgery, who has long been tooting the horn of “only board certified plastics surgeons” should do surgery”, condemned him for not being board certified.  Instead of sticking up for their own and coming out with a statement that no surgeon should be condemned until the facts are discovered, they simply turned on him.  By the way, saying that only a “board certified plastic surgeon” should do cosmetic surgery is as silly as saying that only Fords are safe cars and that you should not drive any other car.  There are many talented board certified plastic surgeons and there are many board certified plastic surgeons that have very little, if any cosmetic training.  On the other hand, there are thousands of very qualified board certified surgeons in ophthalmology, dermatology, oral and maxillofacial surgery, ENT, facial plastic surgery, general surgery and other specialties that have extensive cosmetic training.  It is the surgeon and his or her training that is important, not what specialty they come from.

Dr. Adams was getting pounded by everyone that had an opinion.  Former patients came out of the woodwork with accusations of malpractice.  Entertainment Tonight showed bad scars caused by Dr. Adams and women stood in line to denigrate Dr. Adams.  Funny they did not complain prior to the West tragedy.  In addition, other cosmetic surgeons in the area where Dr. Adams practices also got their 15 minutes of fame by condemning the actions of Dr. Adams, even though not one single person had the facts. I have no idea if Dr. Adams is a good or a bad surgeon, but I would bet that he is pretty talented to be selected for a national show and I bet when he wakes up and goes to work in the morning he has the main goal of performing his specialty in a safe and effective manner and to do his best to help his patients.  I am sure that he received many benefits from being surgeon to the stars, but I guess being famous has a big downside as well.

Fast forward six weeks.  The coroner released the official cause of death report.  Preexisting cardiac conditions and nondescript post operative problems.  Guess what?  Nary a mention of Dr. Adams was made.  Not a single sentence in the report detailed a single problem during surgery or any wrong doing of Dr. Jan Adams.  Too bad his career has been ruined, too bad that the media and detractors could not hold their tongues for six weeks to find out the truth.  In this age of sensational journalism, people do anything to sell a show.  We were all tired of the Anna Nicole Smith and Paris and Lindsey scandals, so we were hungry to feast on the new meat of Dr. Jan Adams.

Apparently Mrs. West had some preexisting heart problems and there may have been other non surgery related problems like over dosage of pain medications.  Yes, once the patient leaves the surgery center or hospital, there are many potential problems that could lead to complications.  Sometimes it can be from patients not following directions, sometimes it can be from unforeseen coincidence, and sometime things just happen.

The bottom line is that all medical procedures, including cosmetic surgery carry risk.  Fortunately, the risk is very low for elective cosmetic surgery procedures.  Fortunately, you have a better chance of dying from falling out of bed in the middle of the night than you do from dying from cosmetic surgery.  It is important to know that all procedures carry risks.  It is also important to discuss the informed consent with your surgeon before the procedure.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions, I actually love it when my patients have questions about complications, as it means they are educated.  Also, the patient and surgeon should have a plan in place if complications do occur.  Good questions to ask are how will these potential complications be managed, when will they be treated and who will pay for the treatment.

Although it is impossible to prevent post surgical complications, you can do some homework to insure standard of care treatment.  Some good points to follow are:

  • Choose a surgeon who is experienced in your procedure.  There may be a big difference in a surgeon who performs 2 facelifts a year and a surgeon who performs 2 a week.
  • Insist to see your surgeon’s work.  Experienced surgeons should be able to show you many before and after images and allow you to talk to patients that have had that specific procedure.
  • Your surgeon should be board certified in his or her specialty
  • Your surgeon should operate in an accredited facility.  Stringent rules apply in order to have an accredited facility in ones office and this means that the doctor has met these qualifications.
  • Your surgeon should be available.  If you cannot reach your surgeon when you have a problem, you choose the wrong surgeon!  I personally give all of my patients my home and cell phone numbers and it is my privilege to assist them when they have questions.
  • Choose a surgeon you can communicate with.  A great surgeon with poor communication skills may not be as good as an average surgeon who is personable, approachable, available and affable.
  • Is the surgeon’s practice limited to cosmetic surgery?  Although there are many fine surgeons that dabble in cosmetic surgery, those who limit their practices obviously have more experience.
  • The standard of care prior to many cosmetic surgery proceudres is a history and physical as well as lab work and sometimes EKG and chest X-ray.  Very simple procedures my not require these tests, but longer or multiple procedures or medically comprimsed patients need a thorough pre surgical work up.

 

Many patients spend more time picking out a pair of shoes than they do researching a cosmetic surgeon.  Fortunately, most times everything works out well but heeding the above points can make your choice easier.

 

Joe Niamtu, III DMD