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Lap-Band death blamed on anesthesiologist

Despite an autopsy report's findings, Dr. Daniel Shin is unfairly blamed, lawyer says.

April 15, 2011|Stuart Pfeifer

An anesthesiologist's "suboptimal" care caused a woman to die after recent weight-loss surgery at a Beverly Hills clinic connected to the 1-800-GET-THIN advertising campaign, according to an autopsy report by the Los Angeles County coroner.

The report does not identify the anesthesiologist, but lawyers for the clinic and the dead woman's family said it was Dr. Daniel Shin, a Marina del Rey physician. Shin was on probation with the state medical board at the time of the surgery because of his conviction for assaulting a process server with a meat cleaver, according to medical board records.

Tamara Walter died Dec. 26, three days after she had a Lap-Band device implanted at the Beverly Hills Surgery Center, a lawyer for her family said. She is one of four Southern California patients to die after Lap-Band surgeries in the last two years at clinics that received referrals from the 1-800-GET-THIN advertisements, according to interviews with relatives of the deceased patients, lawsuits and autopsy reports.

Shin did not respond to interview requests. Robert Silverman, an attorney who represents the surgery centers and the 1-800-GET-THIN marketing company, said in an email that Shin was unfairly blamed in the autopsy report. Silverman has previously said the other deaths were not the fault of the surgery centers, the doctors who performed the surgeries or the marketing firm.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, April 17, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 2 inches; 62 words Type of Material: Correction
Lap-Band surgery: An article about a death following Lap-Band surgery in the April 15 Business section said that two people, Ana Renteria and Willie Brooks Jr., died at a Beverly Hills surgery center after undergoing the weight-loss procedure. Renteria and Brooks both had Lap-Band surgery at the Beverly Hills center, but did not die there. They died days later at separate hospitals.

Shin "has voluntarily taken a leave of absence," Silverman wrote in the email, and the surgery center "does not expect Dr. Shin to seek reinstatement of his privileges" to treat its patients.

Walter's sister Betty Brown said Walter would not have elected to have the surgery if she had known that her anesthesiologist was on probation from the medical board because of a conviction for a violent assault.

"I'm frustrated. I'm angry. It's unbelievable. Every time we turn around we find something else," Brown said. "What kind of operation are they? This just tells me they don't care about the people they hire; they just care about the money. They just roll people out like an assembly line."

Silverman sent The Times an email defending the center's decision to allow Shin to treat its patients. The email said Shin's arrest and conviction were "an isolated instance of character deviation not related to the care and treatment of patients." He said Shin was a skilled anesthesiologist with 20 years of experience.

Silverman added that the 1-800-GET-THIN marketing company "does not have any record indicating" Walter called that number to schedule her appointment.

Torrance police officers arrested Shin on Nov. 18, 2006, after he allegedly swung a meat cleaver at a process server who went to his house to serve him legal documents, said Torrance Police Sgt. Jeremiah Hart. The arrest report did not identify the documents that process server Adam Black was trying to serve.

Black told police that Shin came to his front door and screamed, "Get the hell out of here! Get out of here now!" and then swung the cleaver at him "in a downward slashing motion," but the nearly 6-inch blade did not strike Black, Hart said.

Black fled and told one of the anesthesiologist's neighbors to call police, Hart said. Police officers arrested Shin without incident, Hart said.

Prosecutors charged Shin with felony assault with a deadly weapon. As part of a plea bargain, Shin pleaded no contest Jan. 25, 2007, to misdemeanor assault with a deadly weapon, according to court records. He was placed on probation for three years, fined $120 and ordered to undergo 26 weeks of anger-management counseling. He was also ordered to perform 472 hours of community service, according to court records.

Shin submitted a letter on Oct. 16, 2008, indicating he had completed his community service. Two years later, a judge set aside the no-contest plea and dismissed the case, according to court records.

In 2009, the medical board placed Shin on two years' probation for the meat cleaver incident and ordered him to undergo a psychiatric evaluation and ethics training. He was allowed to continue treating patients, according to the medical board's ruling. A spokeswoman for the board declined to comment.

Kathryn Trepinski, an attorney representing Walter's family, said the assault conviction was troubling.

"I would want an anesthesiologist who's calm and collected and good under pressure," she said.

Kevin Young, a Los Angeles County deputy medical examiner, concluded in the March 21 autopsy report that Walter's death was an "accident due to suboptimal anesthesia care." That finding was based in part on a report by consulting anesthesiologist Selma H. Calmes.

Calmes, who retired as the chief of anesthesiology at UCLA-Olive View Medical Center in 2004, made her findings after reviewing medical records about Walter's treatment.

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