BURIEN, Wash. — The Washington State Medical Commission (WMC) has suspended the license of Dr. Kristine Brecht, a family practice doctor and cosmetic surgeon who state investigators caught carrying out plastic surgeries she had been ordered to stop performing.
Brecht, whose practice was based in Burien, was sanctioned by the WMC in August 2021 for violating several state laws including the inappropriate use of anesthesia, prescribing high doses of opioids, benzodiazepines and muscle relaxers without justification, and failing to properly monitor patients after surgeries.
One of her cases in 2019 led to the death of 54-year-old Shannon Etter of West Seattle. Investigators wrote Brecht caused “severe harm or death to a human patient.”
A 2021 Agreed Order, signed by Brecht, allowed her to keep her medical license, but prevented her from performing “any procedures that require sedation.” She was also ordered to “cease and desist” performing surgeries in her same-day surgery center after the Washington State Department of Health found it wasn’t licensed.
State investigators found Brecht did not abide by the orders by performing several “complex” plastic surgeries with sedation in her unlicensed surgery center this year. They included tummy tucks, fat transfers, breast augmentations and liposuction.
In a Summary Action Order signed on September 16, 2022, Brecht’s license was suspended, and she cannot practice as a physician or surgeon, “pending further action.” The WMC wrote Brecht’s actions caused “an immediate danger to the public health, safety, or welfare.”
“Oh [I’m] terribly relieved," said the mother of Shannon Etter, Mary Francis Duggan of Vancouver, Wash. “It was just like a load was lifted from my shoulders.”
Attempts to reach Brecht by KING 5 were unsuccessful. In documents filed with the state to address the initial complaints, she denied wrongdoing.
“At no time do I believe that I put any patients at risk,” Brecht wrote in 2020. “None of the patients in [the state’s case] suffered injuries as a result of my care and treatment.”
Brecht’s license was restricted in 2021, in part, because “inappropriate anesthesia” was a pattern in the surgeries. According to state investigators, instead of using general anesthesia or intravenous (IV) sedation under the direction of a board-certified anesthesiologist or a certified registered nurse anesthesiologist, Brecht acted as her own anesthesiologist. Records show she relied on oral medications for surgeries including oxycodone, lorazepam, and zolpidem (Ambien), even during high-risk procedures.
Samantha Blankenship, age 33 of Burien, went to Brecht in 2021 for liposuction, before the license restriction. She said Brecht gave her several oxycontin and a “handful of other pills” for the procedure that left her feeling “out of it” for three days.
“It was pretty horrific. Nobody should have that much medication in their system,” Blankenship said. “I felt like I was overdosed. It was scary because I felt like I could have died having all that medication in my system.”
Like other patients who spoke with KING 5, Blankenship thought Brecht was a board-certified plastic surgeon. She was shocked when finding Brecht’s specialty is family practice medicine.
“I thought she was a plastic surgeon because of everything on her website made it seem like that,” Blankenship said. “I’m absolutely horrified. I’m a single mom. If something would happen to me what would my kids do? I’m angry. That angers me that this has happened so many times and happened to me.”
In the state of Washington, all doctors must have a physician and surgeon license. Regardless of specialty, in Brecht’s case, family practice medicine, physicians with this license can perform specialty surgeries.
The Washington state legislature outlines the licensing requirements for physicians.
Doctors from Canada consulted for this story were shocked a family practice doctor was performing high-risk plastic surgeries.
“It just makes no sense,” said Dr. Nick Carr, former head of the Division of Plastic Surgery at the University of British Columbia. “I was shocked. Jurisdictionally we’re a couple of hundred miles apart and that kind of thing would never happen in Vancouver. There are many levels of legislation that simply make that impossible.”
In Canada, doctors must get the equivalent of board certification to practice a specialty.
“You have to be a plastic surgeon or an appropriate specialist in order to do the procedures you’re asking to do,” Carr said.
Brecht has three weeks to contest her suspension but so far has not done so.
“To date, Dr. Brecht has not filed an answer to the statement of charges. The WMC took action on Dr. Brecht to protect the public health and safety, as fast as statutorily possible, and Dr. Brecht cannot endanger anyone or practice medicine in any form,” wrote WMC Legislative Liaison and Public Information Officer Stephanie Mason.
“It feels good to know [my daughter Shannon] didn’t die in vain and that Dr. Brecht can’t hurt anyone else,” Duggan said.