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Kanye West's cousin investigated in death

The registered nurse cared for rapper's mom after cosmetic surgery. She died the next day.

December 03, 2008|Rong-Gong Lin II | Lin is a Times staff writer.

More than a year after the death of rapper Kanye West's mother, state officials are investigating her nephew, a registered nurse who oversaw her recuperation after her plastic surgery, according to a person with knowledge of the probe.

Stephan Scoggins, who received his nursing license in 1990 and has an advanced degree in public health, was in charge of caring for Donda West when she returned home Nov. 9, 2007, after a 5 1/2 -hour operation. West had been advised by the staff at the Brentwood-area clinic where she underwent multiple procedures to recover at a postoperative care facility.

Scoggins, 46, who at first denied he knew of any inquiry by the California Board of Registered Nursing, later declined to comment on the advice of his attorney.

The investigation by the board responsible for regulating and disciplining the state's registered nurses was first reported by People.com last week. A source familiar with the inquiry confirmed the probe but asked not to be identified because it is still underway.

The probe into Scoggins marks a shift from the days immediately after West's death. The preliminary autopsy by the Los Angeles County coroner's office found the cause "as a result of surgery or anesthesia," leading to considerable scrutiny of her high-profile surgeon, Dr. Jan Adams.

Ultimately, the coroner's final report did not fault Adams. Coroner's officials ruled in January that West, 58, "died from some preexisting coronary artery disease and multiple postoperative factors following surgery," including pain-control medication and the tight bandaging of her chest, which may have limited her breathing.

West was 5 feet 2 and weighed 188 pounds. She had high blood pressure, high blood sugar and cardiac artery blockage. Heart disease also ran in her family. West had been advised against the surgery by another surgeon, who said he would not operate on her because she was at risk for a heart attack.

The day before she died, West had undergone significant liposuction, a partial reduction of her right breast and implants in both breasts; a "belt lipectomy," which excises fat all around the belt area and tightens the surrounding skin, and a tightening of muscles in her abdomen. She then went to her home in Playa del Rey, where she had arranged for her nephew to care for her.

Experts question whether West should have been operated on in the first place, given her chronic health problems.

Her decision to be cared for at home probably compounded a dangerous situation, said Dr. Michael F. McGuire, president-elect of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and an associate clinical professor at UCLA.

"It's foolish to try to do it in a house," he said.

McGuire said that given West's health problems and the lengthy, invasive operation, she should have been sent to a recovery center equipped with monitors and staffed by nurses trained in postoperative care.

If investigators determine that Scoggins was negligent in his care, his nursing license might be at risk.

Scoggins stayed with West overnight after the operation, according to the coroner's report. Two other people, described in the report as "caregivers," were also there.

Scoggins later told officials that by the next morning, his aunt appeared to be doing so well that he left for the day, but intended to return that night to stay with her.

West spent her final hours warm to the touch, breathing heavily and reporting pain in her throat and tightness in her chest, the coroner's report states.

In the evening, a friend found West cold and clammy in her bed, without a pulse. She was pronounced dead after being rushed to Centinela Freeman Regional Medical Center.

West's high-profile death already has drawn attention to numerous issues related to cosmetic surgery. The state Legislature this year passed a bill with near-unanimous support to require people to undergo a physical examination, give a complete medical history and get a doctor's clearance before undergoing plastic surgery. The bill was vetoed in September by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said the lengthy delay in passing the state budget left him with time to enact only the highest-priority legislation.

Adams, the surgeon who operated on West, is no longer licensed to practice medicine in California, although the lapse of his medical license in June was not related to her death.

In April 2007, the Medical Board of California filed a complaint seeking to revoke or suspend his medical license because of multiple alcohol- related convictions. That complaint has not been resolved, but state records show that on June 25, Adams' medical license expired. He had been denied the opportunity to renew his license to practice medicine because he failed to comply with a family support order, such as alimony or child support.

In the early hours of June 26, Adams was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving in Solano County. He pleaded no contest in October to a charge of driving with a blood-alcohol level of more than 0.08%. Sentencing is scheduled Jan. 5, but Adams is expected to serve 120 days in jail, said his attorney, Michael Cardoza.

Adams issued a brief statement Tuesday through his lawyer: "I'm pleased to hear that this portion of the investigation is moving forward. I'm hopeful it will reveal the truth as to what actually happened."

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ron.lin@latimes.com

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