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LAPD probes Lap-Band death

Police examine fatality at West Hills clinic affiliated with GET-THIN ads.

April 06, 2012|By Stuart Pfeifer and Andrew Blankstein, Los Angeles Times
  • Paula Rojeski, who lived in Ladera Ranch, died Sept. 8 after having a Lap-Band device surgically implanted at Valley Surgical Center in West Hills.
Paula Rojeski, who lived in Ladera Ranch, died Sept. 8 after having a Lap-Band… (Marni Rader )

Los Angeles police say they are investigating the death of a patient who had Lap-Band weight-loss surgery at a West Hills outpatient clinic last year.

Paula Rojeski, 55, died Sept. 8 after having a Lap-Band device surgically implanted at Valley Surgical Center, which is affiliated with the 1-800-GET-THIN advertising campaign.

The Los Angeles County coroner's office has not publicly released its autopsy report on Rojeski at the request of the LAPD, which is investigating the circumstances of her death, said Ed Winter, Los Angeles County's assistant chief coroner.

LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith confirmed that the LAPD's Robbery-Homicide unit was investigating a Sept. 8 death at the West Hills facility, although he declined to identify the person by name. No other patients died after Lap-Band surgery at the clinic that day, Winter said.

Mark Braykovich, a spokesman for the law firm that represents Valley Surgical Center, declined to comment.

Rojeski, who lived in Ladera Ranch, was one of five patients who died after surgery at clinics affiliated with 1-800-GET-THIN, according to lawsuits, autopsy reports and other public records. Until recently, the marketing company had promoted Lap-Band weight-loss surgery on Southern California roadside billboards, television, radio and the Internet.

In a civil lawsuit, two former surgery center workers alleged that a series of medical gaffes contributed to Rojeski's death. That lawsuit, filed in January, said an intravenous line was not properly inserted into Rojeski's arm during surgery, causing solution to pool on the floor of the operating room.

Former surgical technicians Dyanne Deuel and Karla Osorio also said in the lawsuit that the anesthesiologist forgot to turn on the oxygen tank before surgery.

In addition to the lawsuit, Deuel made the same allegations in a letter to the Los Angeles County coroner. She said she was not in the operating room, but based her allegations on statements made by medical staff there that day.

In February, an attorney who represents the surgical center sent a letter to Coroner Anthony T. Hernandez, challenging the allegations that Deuel and Osorio made in the lawsuit. The letter said the former workers were not in the operating room during Rojeski's surgery and were "not to be believed."

Some of the surgery centers filed a federal lawsuit in March against Deuel and Osorio accusing them of unlawfully accessing Rojeski's medical records and violating a confidentiality agreement by discussing Rojeski's care with outside parties.

In December, the Food and Drug Administration warned 1-800-GET-THIN and its affiliated surgery centers that its ads for Lap-Band surgery were misleading because they failed to adequately disclose risks of the surgery.

Nearly all of the billboard advertisements have been removed, officials with several billboard ad companies said.

Autopsy reports have been released for the four Lap-Band patients other than Rojeski who died after surgery.

Willie Brooks, 35, of Perris died June 8, 2009, three days after Lap-Band surgery at a clinic in Beverly Hills affiliated with 1-800-GET-THIN. An autopsy report listed peritonitis — inflammation of the lining of the abdominal cavity — and obesity as contributing factors in his death.

Ana Renteria, 33, died Feb. 14, 2010, 10 days after surgery at the Beverly Hills clinic. An autopsy report listed peritonitis as a contributing factor in her death.

Laura Faitro, 50, died July 26, 2010, five days after surgery at the West Hills clinic. An autopsy noted that Faitro's liver was lacerated and that 3 liters of bloody fluid were found in her abdominal cavity.

Tamara Walter, 52, died Dec. 26, 2010, three days after surgery at the Beverly Hills clinic. A coroner's report faulted the anesthesiologist involved in the surgery, classifying the cause of death as "accident due to suboptimal anesthesia care."

stuart.pfeifer@latimes.com

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

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