Carson Liu, M.D., a leading bariatric surgeon in Los Angeles, has praised the announcement earlier today by the FDA that warned 1-800-GET-THIN centers on deceptive advertising. The warning follows the deaths of five patients who had Lap Band procedures at clinics affiliated with the 1-800-GET-THIN campaign in Southern California over the past two years, according to lawsuits, autopsy reports, and interviews conducted by the Los Angeles Times.
“These are five deaths that should have never happened,” said Dr. Liu, who prior to opening his own private practice, headed the bariatric department at UCLA Medical School. Since 1998, he has performed more 3,700 bariatric surgeries, including the Lap Band, and is authorized by the Lap Band’s manufacturer, Allergan, to teach other surgeons Lap Band surgical procedures.
The FDA warned that the 1-800-GET-THIN organization’s billboards and advertising inserts to promote the Lap-Band procedure fail to provide required risk information, including warnings, precautions, and possible side effects. “It’s the wild, wild West out there when it comes to bariatric surgery,” said Dr. Liu. “My only regret with today’s FDA announcement is why it took two years to issue the warning.”
Liu says patients of his who have gone to the 1-800- GET-THIN clinics describe harrowing experiences that led them to believe that the clinics are actually scamming the insurance companies.
One woman used up all her insurance on unnecessary tests and procedures. Others reported that the clinics falsify the patients’ height and weight to get insurance approval, perform unnecessary tests, and even require patients to undergo unnecessary surgery prior to the Lap-Band procedure. One man said he was told he had to have his normal gallbladder removed prior to the Lap-Band procedure. Women were told they need to have their normal uterus removed prior to surgery.
“This type of behavior on behalf of medical professionals is outrageous and inexcusable. Ultimately, however, patients must empower themselves and realize that a Lap Band procedure is surgery with all the risk and consequences associated with any surgery,” said Dr. Liu.
Dr. Liu advises that patients considering Lap Band surgery to look for a center that is officially recognized as a Surgical Review Corp Center of Excellence run through the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. The Public needs to be aware that this is a safe outpatient procedure, if in the right hands.