Israel's Doctor Feelbad
Neither a professor nor an expert, Dr. George Feldman performed breast enlargement on A. on a massage table in his Tel Aviv apartment, with no life-support measures or general anesthesia; 'I got dressed on my own and went outside to look for a taxi to take me home,' says the patient, who still bears physical and mental scars.
Feldman's license has already been previously revoked for three months, for advertising his work under false pretences. He introduces himself as a professor — which he isn't — and boasts about a title that doesn’t exist in Israel. He's already hurt several patients, who sued him. At 82, Feldman doesn't seem to be slowing down.
A., a 44-year-old woman, is now suing Feldman for malpractice. A friend told her about Feldman, and she had a breast enlargement operation in the small Tel Aviv apartment in which Feldman lives, receives patients and performs surgeries. She saved money for years in order to be able to afford the procedure, but never imagined the real price she was about to pay.
"Instead of this surgery making me happy, I'm all messed up," A. says. "The results are horrible; I can’t even wear a low-cut top. I had to undergo two other operations and was hospitalized for a while. And if that's not enough, when people hear I had it done by a doctor who isn't trained in plastic surgery and under the conditions in which it took place, I end up getting blamed for being stupid."
How did you agree to have an operation in a doctor's home rather than in a hospital?
"That's what people ask me, but what do I know about surgery? Especially when the doctor sounds mature, experienced and reassuring?"
A. spent the days after surgery recuperating at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv. She says Feldman had promised she could be back at work after three days of rest, but she stayed home for five days, and then things turned sour: "I started feeling bad. I had severe pain in the area, my temperature was up and I was bleeding from the stitches in my right breast."
So what did you do?
"I ran to the hospital and was rushed into surgery. They drained the blood and released me after four days. After that I thought the trouble was over, but then two weeks later the stitches in my left breast started bleeding."
After being hospitalized for further surgery, and again for four more days, A. was finally released. Now, she's suing Dr. Feldman for millions for malpractice. She struggles to recover and can't stop thinking about the difficult experience she underwent.
"I cried a lot afterwards," says A. "I didn't understand what I'd been through… My breasts are asymmetrical, I was better off with the small breasts I had before. At least I wasn't ashamed of my body then… His (Feldman's) wall was full of certificates."
What did Feldman's clinic look like? Was it sterile?"It was a small room with a spa-like bed, with a kitchenette and a toilet on one side and a sofa and table on the other. It looked like an improvised clinic… A nurse came in and administered local anesthesia to both my breasts, and I was awake the whole time and got no other medicine, nothing to calm me down."
Was it painful?
When he inserted the first implant I felt pressure and pain. I told him that and I physically stopped his hand (from continuing). Then the nurse enlarged the anesthesia dose, until at some point she just said 'listen, I've given you the maximum, you'll have to suffer (and push through)."
The pain continued, and when Feldman started putting in the second implant, A. stopped him again, using her arm to push him away. "He was really angry at me by then, he was eager to get the surgery over with," she says in tears. "At that moment it dawned on me that he's operating on me without face or head covering."
The surgery took more than two hours. Then the doctor told A. that "the nurse is tired, she came here from her hospital shift and she's in a rush to get home." He then told her to get up and get dressed.
"I was right out of surgery, after fasting, with no help at all. I got dressed on my own and left without anyone checking my blood pressure or pulse or even asking me how I felt. I had to go outside to call a taxi to take me home."
"All Health Ministry procedures were ignored during this operation," says Dr. Moris Topaz, former manager of the Hillel Yaffe Medical Center's Plastic Surgery Department, and the prosecution's expert witness in A.'s case against Feldman.
"The plaintiff was treated with disdain and was operated on while on a bed that isn't a surgical bed, with limited lighting, with only one nurse present, without an anesthesiologist at all… There were no life support measures that are crucial in any surgical facility… The operation took place under local anesthesia and thus caused the plaintiff severe pain and distress. And even worse — there is no documentation of the procedure."
Feldman's attorney Lior Levit said in response that the painful after-effects of the surgery experienced by A. were due to a fall she had a week and a half after the procedure, and were unconnected to any malpractice.
"Some 10 days after the surgery, the plaintiff arrived at the clinic to have her stitches removed, and my client saw bloody discharge around the wound," Levit said. "She told him that she had fallen down, and he advised her to go to hospital. My client rejects any attempt to accuse him of conducting inappropriate procedures, and isn't responsible for any kind of damage she suffered. If she did suffer damage, it is due to her fall and has nothing to do with my client."
Levit also said that A. had advance notice of the conditions in which the operation would be performed, and that they had been clearly laid out in the paperwork she had signed.
"The plaintiff signed a consent form 10 days before the procedure that details everything. It was made clear that due to the fact that she couldn't or wouldn't undergo the procedure in a hospital, it would take place in a clinic and under local anesthesia, with the assistance of a trained nurse and in a sterile environment with appropriate tools," Levit said. "My client informed the plaintiff of his expertise, and his door sign reads 'Cosmetic Surgery'."
The lawyer also suggested that the plaintiff was unnecessarily targeting an elderly man in poor health and with failing eyesight.
"My client is 82, and an elderly man who trained as a surgeon in Israel and as a plastic surgeon abroad. He's been through two strokes and is now disabled, and suffers severely impaired vision," Levit said.
But Feldman has been sued multiple times in the past for malpractice. One recent case is of a young woman who says Feldman didn't explain the procedure to her. The breast enlargement operation she has gone through failed, leaving her with necrosis and major scars on her breasts. Rishon LeZion Magistrates’ Court determined that Feldman had been negligent.
Another recent case involved a male patient who came in for a face-lift that left him with a scar. Only after he asked to see the forms he had signed did he see that Feldman added a few handwritten words as a disclaimer: "Possible complications include scarring, damage to facial nerves, etc." The court determined that Feldman was negligent and the case ended in a settlement agreement.
Then there was a woman who complained about pain after she had a liposuction procedure performed by Dr. Feldman. He told her everything was okay, but two days later her drain became dislodged, and her stitches started leaking. She had to call in a doctor. Several of Feldman's patients had to receive mental health assistance in order to cope with the damage they had suffered.
An investigation revealed that in 2009, Dr. Feldman received a permit from the Health Ministry to perform plastic surgery. However, the permit was limited to operations Feldman said took place in a certain private hospital. Furthermore, Feldman could only operate at this hospital on the condition he disclosed to his patients that he was not an expert in plastic surgery and they signed an agreement saying they were aware of this fact. Feldman nonetheless touted his plastic surgery expertise online.
Dr. Meir Cohen, chair of the Israeli Society of Plastic & Aesthetic Surgery, said: "Turning to doctors who aren't experts in plastics is a potential threat to public health. These doctors, who gained no qualifications and are not under the society's supervision, perform irresponsible procedures such as home operations."
According to the Health Ministry, five complaints have been made received against Dr. Feldman over the years, and his license was revoked twice, once for one month and a second time for three months, for false publicity and using the title "professor."
"Feldman has a permit to continue performing plastic surgery under some restrictions, He has a duty to inform his patients that he isn't an expert in plastic surgery," said the ministry.