Woman dies following liposuction in Bellevue

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by LINDA BYRON / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @LByronK5

KING5.com

Posted on November 16, 2009 at 11:49 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 4 at 10:45 AM

It was an exciting time for 28-year-old Aura Javellana of Redmond. 

"Everybody liked her, she was outgoing," said her fiancé, Justin Rogers. "She was a star performer at work." 

"If you could say soul mate, she was definitely my soul mate," he said.

He was about to seal his long engagement to Aura with a wedding band. 

"It was going to have four diamonds in it, because basically I waited four years before I married her," he said.

But like many brides to be, Aura wasn't happy with her body, so she paid a visit to the Sono Bello Body Contour Center in Bellevue. In its ads, on its Web site and in its brochures, Sono Bello promotes its laser-assisted liposuction as less invasive than traditional liposuction where patients are "put under" using general anesthesia.

"A microprocedure so tiny, it doesn't even need stitches," said one ad.

In written materials we obtained from patients, Sono Bello claims "we have ruled out the major risk and complications that existed with traditional liposuction by introducing the use of new micro-instruments and laser assistance!" 

Those marketing materials say the procedures are "virtually painless" and "recovery is easy," allowing patients to return to "work the same or next day," feeling only "the aches and pains you have after a good workout."

"They make it sound like snip, tuck, bam, hit you with a laser you're done," said Rogers.

Aura was generally in good health.  But Rogers said last winter they both decided that they needed to lose weight and came up with a plan for diet and exercise. They briefly talked about surgical solutions like liposuction.

"In terms of, oh we would never do that," Rogers said. "It's an unacceptable way of doing things, it's a cop out a shortcut we would never take."

But Aura secretly changed her mind. On May 26, she dropped off Rogers at work saying only that she was leaving town on a business trip. Rogers didn't know she was driving just a few miles to Sono Bello for a three-and-a-half hour liposuction procedure. He never saw her again.

"It's still unreal," said Rogers. "At the end of the day you've lost somebody who was your future, your life."

Aura had fat removed from what her contract listed as her "abds, love handles, upper arms." The cost - $8,000. 

Then instead of going home, she checked into a Bellevue hotel.  It was a Tuesday and Aura apparently planned to recover at the hotel alone, returning to the home she shared with Rogers by the weekend.  But by Wednesday morning, Aura was dead.

Maids found her when they opened the door to clean the room.

Aura's bed was soaked with bloody fluid that had leaked from the 11 puncture wounds left behind by the liposuction tubes. There were bloody bandages everywhere.

The investigating officers discovered deep purple bruises on Aura's body.

The King County Medical Examiner ruled it was the cosmetic surgery that killed Aura.  She died from "acute lidocaine intoxication." 

Lidocaine is a nerve blocker that's pumped into the body to suppress pain during liposuction. Lidocaine intoxication is a rare, but known, complication of liposuction, one of the most popular cosmetic surgeries in the United  States.

We asked Dr. Phil Haeck, the incoming president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, what questions it raises when someone dies of lidocaine intoxication.

"It raises the question of how much lidocaine was placed into the body at the time of the surgery, and whether there was an adequate way to monitor the patient after the surgery," said Haeck.

The doctor who did Aura's liposuction told police he was shocked to hear that she had died.  The doctor wouldn't return our calls, but Thomas Garrison, the Corporate Medical Director for Sono Bello, did. Dr. Garrison said that Aura's death was "an unfortunate occurrence … we do not think there was any fault from the clinic."

Garrison said that Sono Bello's internal reviews found that lidocaine was used  "well within accepted guidelines"  and that the consent form Aura signed lists "death" as a possible risk/side effect of laser assisted body sculpting.

Garrison also sent us a written statement saying that some of the marketing materials that promised risk free liposuction "were not sanctioned or approved by Sono Bello."  In the statement Garrison says "we recently learned that a former employee may have provided certain patients with unauthorized statements and information regarding the risks, complications and benefits of laser assisted liposuction."  

Sono Bello's Seattle based attorney, E. Pennock Gheen, told us that the company fired the employee who gave out the marketing materials containing the inflated safety claims.  But Gheen would not tell us how many people got the materials or even how long the employee worked for Sono Bello.

No one will ever know what was going on in Aura Javellana's mind in the 12 hours between leaving Sono Bello and when she died in her hotel room alone.

But the paperwork found near her body may have led her to believe there was no cause for alarm.  Among other things it says that there is an "extremely low rate of complications" from laser-assisted liposuction.  So low, that "Sono Bello" has never had a patient experience serious complication from Laser Body Sculpting."

"She definitely underestimated the danger she was in," said Rogers.  "She's extremely intelligent." 

Aura never called for help.  By the time Rogers figured out where she'd gone and tried to stop her, it was too late. 

"I've lost basically my best friend and for the longest time I felt like I had lost my future," he said.

No one has determined that Sono Bello or the doctor did anything wrong. Bellevue Police concluded there was no criminal wrongdoing and the King County Medical Examiner ruled the death an accident.  But the state's Medical Quality Assurance Commission, which investigates doctors, opened an investigation late last week after we brought the case to their attention.

There is a list of risks and side effects on the consent form patients sign before having liposuction done at Sono Bello. But we wanted to find out what Sono Bello tells people who ask about risks and complications when inquiring about the procedure. 

In late October, KING TV sent a producer into Sono Bello in Bellevue, which is where Aura had her liposuction done.  The producer asked the patient care consultant, "Have you had serious complications?" The consultant replied, "no, no, no, not here." 

This was five months after Aura Javellana died.

To make a complaint with the Washington State Department of Health, call 360-236-4700, option 7.

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