Liposuction 2007 - Why did a Young Woman Die?

    Permission to use in entirety as op-ed.

    TORONTO, Sept. 26 /CNW/ - On Sept. 20, 2007, Krista Stryland, a lovely,
vibrant, 32 year old professional woman, tragically went into cardiac arrest
immediately following a liposuction procedure. Peri-operative death in
cosmetic surgery in general, and liposuction surgery in particular, is such a
rare occurrence that the knee-jerk reaction is to assume that someone caused
it. The focus right now is on who caused the death, rather than on what caused
it. Let's stand back and examine the whats first.
    The whats, or established causes of death in liposuction surgery comprise
(i) a blood clot or a piece of dislodged fat traveling to the lungs
(instrumentation), (ii) malignant hyperthermia reaction (genetic), (iii) an
irregular heart rhythm, usually ventricular fibrillation (from either
pre-existing heart dysfunction or damage or from a reaction to intraoperative
medications), (iv) congestive heart failure (intraoperative fluid overload),
(v) heart attack (a random and totally unpredictable event). A new,
unexplored, potential cause of death is a bolus of liquefied fat and cellular
debris - arising from the use of devices which burst fat cells and liquefy fat
prior to suctioning - traveling to heart or lungs.
    The whos, or contributing factors include: (i) the patient's underlying
physical status (pre-existing organ damage or dysfunction), (ii) medical acts
of commission or omission by the surgeon and/or anaesthetist prior to cardiac
arrest, (iii) medical acts of commission or omission by the surgeon and/or
anaesthetist immediately following cardiac arrest. (These medical acts could
range from errors in judgment - which happens to most doctors during their
careers - to medical negligence - falling below the accepted standard of
    An intra-operative death can occur in the hands of any doctor, no matter
how skilled or experienced. I will never forget a day during my anaesthesia
training, when a healthy young man died of a massive heart attack under a
routine general anaesthesia in a Toronto teaching hospital, during a simple
toenail extraction. The senior anaesthetist remained devastated for months,
even though he had done everything correctly. The senior surgeon who performed
the most trivial of surgeries was severely affected. When a patient suffers a
medical misadventure, it is horrible for everyone: family, doctors, doctors'
families. There's great pressure to identify a villain. Let's remember that
the cause of death can only be determined by autopsy. The contributing
factors, if any, will be identified at a Coroner's Inquest. It is grossly
unfair to the patient's family and friends to speculate that were it not for
the actions of the attending doctor, the patient would have been alive today.
    It is even more unfortunate that blame is prematurely being attributed by
some plastic surgeons to the physician who performed the procedure, simply
because she is not a member of their sub-section of the medical community.
When a liposuction-related death occurred in Toronto some years ago, the
identical invective from plastic surgeons was directed at the esteemed ear,
nose and throat specialist who performed the surgery. Their argument is
simple: Only plastic surgeons should have the right to perform cosmetic
surgery. They insist that regardless of training or expertise, no other
category of physician (including ear, nose and throat specialists,
dermatologists, general surgeons, gynecologists, anaesthetists, general
practitioners) should be permitted to perform cosmetic procedures. This
blatant vested-interest attempt to establish a monopoly failed decades ago and
is now being resurrected by the new generation of plastic surgeons.
    Are they not aware that some of North America's most respected experts in
cosmetic surgery, in terms of both innovation and skill, are from Toronto and
notably come from fields outside of plastic surgery? To name a few, Walter and
Martin Unger, dermatologist and surgeon, Peter Adamson and David Ellis, ear,
nose and throat surgeons, David Seager, GP, have made significant
contributions to advancements in the field of cosmetic surgery. This
non-monopoly policy is historically consistent with other fields of medicine.
Without being Royal College-certified obstetricians/gynecologists, doctors
deliver babies, perform Caesarian sections, tubal ligations and
hysterectomies. Similarly, Ontario boasts very competent GP-anaesthetists,
GP-surgeons, anaesthetist-surgeons, dermatologist-surgeons.
    A most telling and ironic argument against limiting the field of cosmetic
surgeons to plastic surgeons, be it for liposuction or any other cosmetic
procedure, is the case of Jeffrey Klein. Dr. Klein is a California
dermatologist who, in the mid-80's, single-handedly invented and introduced
tumescent technique, the greatest advance in safety in the field of
liposuction. Klein's 4 innovations were:

    (1) Eliminating the greatest risk of surgery, general anaesthesia.
        Klein's liposuction is performed under local anaesthetic on a
        conscious patient.
    (2) Decreasing the risk of bleeding and infection. Immediately prior to
        removing fat, large volumes (1-4 litres) of very dilute, buffered
        local anaesthetic combined with tiny amounts of vasoconstrictor are
    (3) Decreasing the risk of fat embolus. Klein's technique employs much
        finer, blunt cannulae (hollow tubes) to remove fat.
    (4) Decreasing the risk of venous thrombosis and pulmonary embolus. The
        ability of the awake patient to mobilize immediately rather than
        lying in bed for days, prevents blood from sludging in the legs and

    Post-operative morbidity and mortality dropped dramatically as a result
of the Klein technique. Ironically, while Klein's tumescent liposuction was
readily and eagerly embraced by the various branches of the cosmetic surgery
community, plastic surgeons were last to make tumescent liposuction the norm.
Many plastic surgeons modified the Klein technique, calling it "the wet
technique", rather than giving a dermatologist the credit he deserves. To this
day, they rely on this technique for safe liposuction.
    I mourn Krista's untimely passing. Right now, I feel deep compassion for
her family. I equally sympathize with the medical professionals who treated
her. Even without the public and professional scrutiny they will surely
undergo, I'm sure they are tormented by regret and self-doubt. To the plastic
surgeons who are so quick to castigate, I caution: Only last year, a similar
liposuction catastrophe occurred in Montreal, in a highly respected, private
Plastic Surgery Clinic. Rather than use this tragedy for political reasons,
stop speculating and casting aspersions. Respectfully await the results of the
inquest. Cosmetic surgeons of all disciplines would better serve their
patients by collaborating on how to make liposuction - a relatively safe
procedure - even safer. Be humble, for there, but by the grace of God, go you.

    Stan Gore, M.D., LL.B.
    Medical Director,
    LIPIDOCTOR Medical Clinics, Toronto

    Dr. Gore is available for media interviews Sept. 25-Sept. 28/07 in
Toronto, Oct. 1-Oct. 2/07 in Vancouver, Oct. 8 onwards, in Toronto.

For further information:

For further information: Eleanor Gilverson, (416) 698-2346, Web:; For backgrounder, go to

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