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Med-Mal Lawyer Profiled
"People are literally dying to be thin," says St. Louis attorney Herman Praszkier, who was recently interviewed by CBS correspondent Melinda Murphy for a segment about bariatric surgery deaths. The report will air on The Early Show later this month.
Praszkier has handled about a dozen stomach-stapling surgery cases since 1998. Along the way, he has built a national reputation as an expert on the subject.
Last spring, Praszkier was interviewed by NBC Nightly News with Robert Bizell, and he has also been consulted for interviews in The National Law Journal, Washington Diplomat, Fresno Bee and numerous other publications including Missouri Lawyers Weekly.
His reputation has led to representing clients from across the country — from New York to California, from Atlanta to Alaska.
All his cases have been settled before verdict, and all have been subject to confidentiality agreements.
In the case profiled by CBS, Lenore Malone is suing over the death of her husband, a 400-pound retired Naval officer who died after bariatric surgery in the summer of 2003. The lawsuit alleges that Malone was not informed that a critical CT scan could not be performed because he was too big to fit into the machine —subsequently leading to his death.
According to Praszkier, the angle on the CBS story and others like it is that "people were having this surgery to lengthen their life but ended up dying." He says that physicians and facilities where the surgeries have been performed are not capable of performing all the necessary diagnostic tests because of the patient's weight or girth, and that the patient is often kept at the facility without transfer or is transferred too late —resulting in death.
He said the most interesting part of the CBS interview was "the similarity between what patients are being told and how they died. The risks are always underplayed and they were always told by the surgeon, 'trust me.'"
Like the Malone case, Praszkier said he often finds that the surgery facilities do not have the means to perform a CT scan — which he says is the most accurate means to find abscesses resulting from post-operative leakage that can lead to death.
Nevertheless, Praszkier says these surgeries are being heavily marketed for their lucrative value — with little emphasis on the inherent risks.
In 1991, he says the National Institute of Health put the death rate from bariatric surgery at 1 in 1,000. And in a more recent internal study performed last year, he said the institutions that perform the surgeries put the death rate at 1 in 200.
But on a positive note, Praszkier says the American Society of Bariatric Surgery is taking steps to promote compliance with a higher standard of care. This year, he said the organization will begin issuing stamps of approval to facilities that are fully equipped to handle problems arising during surgery and in the post-operative period.
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