You may have seen the ads on television or heard them on the radio, touting "A micro procedure so tiny, it doesn't even need stitches."
On its Web site, Sono Bello claims to be “the nation's fastest-growing body contouring clinic” and “the world leader in minimally-invasive cosmetic technology.”
Kirkland dentist Teresa Yagi says she still has faint scars from the cosmetic procedure she had done at Sono Bello more than a year ago.
“There’s a little scarring here, my hands, if you look, are, you can see the stripes on the hands,” Yagi said.
Yagi says one of her dental patients, who worked at Sono Bello, did the procedure. She says it was done in a treatment room at the Sono Bello in Kirkland, with a machine described to her as a pulse laser.
"She said it was a photo facial, which, I didn't know a lot about it, but she told me, um, it's just to even out your skin tone and that sort of thing. I really didn't check into it," she said.
That's something Yagi regrets. She has photos of the burns on her skin after the procedure on her face and hands.
“If it stayed like that it would have been pretty disfiguring,” Yagi said. “Especially my hands were open blisters. All over the hands, the forehead was probably the worst.”
Yagi says the woman who did the treatment was Karen Shaw, surgical consultant. An internal document obtained by the KING 5 Investigators identifies Shaw as Surgical Consultant Director with Sono Bello, earning $180,000 plus commissions, which together totaled an estimated $444,000 a year - a number Shaw confirmed.
"I wrongly assumed... that she was trained, knew how to do this and as it turned out that wasn't the case," says Yagi.
Shaw denies doing the treatment, and Sono Bello denies the procedure was done in their leased space, which they vacated when they moved to Bellevue. Sono Bello issued a statement from Chief Medical Officer Dr. Thomas E. Garrison saying: "Sono Bello does not perform such treatments, the treatment was not authorized by us and the equipment allegedly used was not owned or operated by Sono Bello."
Sono Bello says they fired Shaw. But she was still there in March 2009, when Pam Andersen of Puyallup came in to ask about getting liposuction.
"She said they make little incisions, which I had behind here and here,” said Anderson.
Andersen showed us where the liposuction punctures were made under her chin.
“And then they stick a little tube in and they suck everything out," she said.
Andersen says she liked the sound of "body contouring."
"I wanted the jowls removed and I wanted just a little bit firmer in my stomach area," she said.
But Andersen wasn't sure liposuction would be safe because she'd had cancer and a blood clot in the past. She says Shaw, identified on her business card as Sono Bello Patient Care Consultant, reassured her.
“I brought up my health issues and she said, 'Oh, we’ve never had any problem with that before, this is such a simple issue, we think you’ll do just fine,'” Andersen said.
Andersen says she paid the $8,000 fee because she trusted Sono Bello's promises on their Web site and the promotional materials she received, which said "We have ruled out the major risks and complications that existed with traditional liposuction by introducing the use of micro instruments and laser assistance! Many patients feel so good they resume normal activities the next day."
Andersen says she was sick for five days and had fluid leaking from the puncture wounds made by the liposuction tubes.
Asked what she was expecting, Andersen said, "Definitely not the seepage that I had and definitely not the pain."
When we asked Sono Bello about the claims in Andersen's packet, they told us they were "unauthorized"... "not sanctioned or approved by Sono Bello."
But Shaw and another Sono Bello employee said the materials were standard handouts.
Andersen's procedure wound up being anything but risk-free. She experienced one of the most common side-effects of liposuction –a blood clot.
"I was very upset… I could tell what was going on from my past experience and I just, I couldn't believe it. I mean I was really shocked," she said.
Andersen says she drove to the emergency room and spent the night in the hospital. A few weeks later she filed a complaint with the Office of the Attorney General Consumer Protection Division.
“They still keep saying you can be in and out and back to work and hardly any problems afterwards. I mean, it’s just simple and it isn't that way," she said.
One month after Andersen had her liposuction, another Sono Bello patient, Aura Javellana, was found dead. She died from lidocaine intoxication hours after a doctor performed liposuction on her at Sono Bello in Bellevue.
The King County Medical Examiner blamed her death on a "complication of cosmetic surgery."
So far no one has determined that the doctor or Sono Bello did anything wrong, but more "unauthorized" materials were found in the stack of paperwork near her body.
The Washington State Department of Health didn’t know about Aura’s death until we brought it to their attention. Friday, they opened an investigation. They were already investigating complaints against three Sono Bello employees - two of them doctors.