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Sister of Lap-Band patient who died after surgery files lawsuit

Michele Pelter says in the lawsuit that 1-800-GET-THIN and affiliated medical personnel failed to warn her sister about the risks of Lap-Band surgery and neglected to recommend other options.

September 15, 2012|By Stuart Pfeifer, Los Angeles Times
  • Paula Rojeski died Sept. 8, 2011, after having a Lap-Band device surgically implanted at Valley Surgical Center, a West Hills clinic affiliated with the 1-800-GET-THIN advertising campaign.
Paula Rojeski died Sept. 8, 2011, after having a Lap-Band device surgically… (Marni Rader )

The sister of an Orange County woman who died after Lap-Band surgery in 2011 has sued the 1-800-GET-THIN marketing firm and several doctors who treated her.

Paula Rojeski, 55, died Sept. 8, 2011, after having a Lap-Band device surgically implanted at Valley Surgical Center, a West Hills clinic affiliated with the 1-800-GET-THIN advertising campaign.

Michele Pelter said in the lawsuit that 1-800-GET-THIN and affiliated medical personnel failed to warn her sister about the risks of the surgery and neglected to recommend other options.

The lawsuit, filed Sept. 7 in Los Angeles County Superior Court, accused anesthesiologist Deming Chau of waiting 15 minutes before he advised a surgeon that Rojeski's condition had worsened after the surgery. Employees of the surgery center eventually called 911 and paramedics took Rojeski to a nearby hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Chau could not be reached for comment.

Rojeski, who lived in Ladera Ranch, is one of five people who died from 2009 to 2011 after Lap-Band surgery at clinics affiliated with 1-800-GET-THIN, which promoted the surgery on freeway billboards, television and radio with a catchy jingle, "Let your new life begin, call 1-800-GET-THIN," according to lawsuits, autopsy reports and other public records.

Pelter, 58, is Rojeski's sole surviving heir, the lawsuit said.

"She loved her sister and misses her. Those pains are magnified by the apparent terrible care she got from beginning to end," said Pelter's attorney, Tim Hamilton, a partner at San Francisco firm Walker, Hamilton & Koenig. "You've lost your sister and coming to the realization that this is undoubtedly a horrible medical mistake, if not worse, just haunts her."

Dan E. Chambers, an attorney who represents Valley Surgical Center, said in an email that Rojeski had previously been diagnosed with a heart condition that may be relevant to the litigation. Rojeski had alleged in a 2003 lawsuit that her heart was damaged after taking the weight-loss drug fen-phen.

"Although I have not seen her medical records, I do wonder whether Ms. Rojeski disclosed that prior condition to any of the defendants named in the complaint before undergoing the Lap-Band procedure," Chambers said in an email.

Hamilton, the sister's attorney, declined to discuss the alleged heart condition. "It's an interesting theory. I don't think it changes my evaluation one bit," he said.

Many of the allegations in the new lawsuit were made in a separate lawsuit filed earlier this year by two women who formerly worked at clinics affiliated with 1-800-GET-THIN.

Former surgical technicians Dyanne Deuel and Karla Osorio said in the earlier lawsuit that Chau, the anesthesiologist, forgot to turn on the oxygen tank before Rojeski's surgery. They also alleged that Dr. Michael Omidi, who the lawsuit said operated 1-800-GET-THIN and the surgery centers with his brother, Julian, directed employees to remove faulty equipment from the West Hills clinic after Rojeski's death and replace it with machines from a Beverly Hills facility in case of a regulatory inspection.

John Hueston, an attorney who represents Michael and Julian Omidi, did not respond to a request for comment.

The Los Angeles County coroner's office has not publicly released its autopsy report on Rojeski at the request of the Los Angeles Police Department, which is investigating the circumstances of her death, said Ed Winter, Los Angeles County's assistant chief coroner. In April, the LAPD said its robbery-homicide division was investigating Rojeski's death. The investigation is ongoing, an LAPD official said Thursday.

1-800-GET-THIN removed the Lap-Band surgery advertisements this year after receiving a warning from the Food and Drug Administration, which said the ads were misleading because they did not include adequate warnings about the risks of the surgery. The Lap-Band is a silicone tube that is surgically implanted around the stomach to discourage overeating.

Allergan Inc., the Irvine-based manufacturer of the Lap-Band, later said it would no longer sell the device to any companies affiliated with 1-800-GET-THIN.

stuart.pfeifer@latimes.com

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