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Michael Hiltzik: A death and 1-800-GET-THIN

December 18, 2010 |  1:45 pm

As I have written in the past, there can be few goods or services being hawked as aggressively to Southern Californians as lap-band surgery, that supposed weight-reduction remedy marketed by the 1-800-GET-THIN billboards, bus placards, and radio and TV ads.

My Sunday column reports on several cases in which patients may have experienced outcomes they didn't bargain for. The column reports on two deaths and an allegedly life-threatening injury (plus some very interesting insurance bills).

Those who have been behind this marketing campaign are Julian and Michael Omidi. Their service goes by the name TopSurgeons. The documents relating to the revocation of Julian Omidi's medical license are here. The California Medical Board's decision involving Michael Omidi is here. The documents relating to the medical board's accusations against Dr. George Tashjian, who treated the late Willie Brooks Jr. and Jodi Lynn Smith, are here and here.

The Brooks family's lawsuit against TopSurgeons, Tashjian, et. al., is here. Jodi Lynn Smith's lawsuit against Tashjian, TopSurgeons, et. al., TopSurgeons is here. The medical clinic's lawsuit against Smith, including the insurance bills totaling $140,000 for an operation she was told would cost $15,000, is here.

The letter from Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, asking for a federal investigation of the 1-800-GET-THIN campaign, is here.

The column begins below.

The tragedy of Ana Renteria’s life was in the way it ended: her body ravaged by infection 10 days after she had the Lap-Band weight-loss operation advertised on those billboards and radio spots bearing the phone number 1-800-GET-THIN.

Renteria, who had long struggled with her 240-pound frame, had been in almost constant pain ever since the operation, says her sister, Noemi Luna.

“I remember her telling me, it’s not getting any better,” Luna recalled. When Renteria called the clinic where she had the operation to complain, Luna said, she was told the discomfort was natural. “They said that’s how it’s going to feel.”

Five days after the Lap-Band operation, the 33-year-old office worker awoke gasping for breath, according to Luna and the Los Angeles coroner’s report on Renteria’s death. 

Read the whole column.

-- Michael Hiltzik