Fatal Plastic Surgery Case Highlights Risks of Combining Too Many Procedures

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As the Palm Beach Post recently reported, the case of 59-year-old Lisa Cooperman, who tragically died after an eight-hour plus combination surgical procedure that included a facelift, necklift, rhinoplasty, chin enhancement, breast reduction and liposuction, will soon be drawn out in court to decide whether or not her plastic surgeon was a fault for her death. 

Cooperman underwent the multiple surgeries with Delray Beach, FL facial plastic surgeon Dr. John Westine at a Delray Beach surgical center. Sadly, while recuperating overnight at the center she became unresponsive. Cooperman passed away five days later when family had to make the heart-wrenching decision to remove her from life support.

This case shines a light on the many factors and decisions surgeons and patients must weigh before undergoing any type of cosmetic treatment: Which doctor is best suited to perform your chosen procedure? How many procedures can you undergo at once? Which cases should be performed at a hospital and which ones are OK to have done at a surgical center? Every single one of these decisions contribute to reducing risk and have an effect on the final outcome. 

La Jolla, CA plastic surgeon Robert Singer, MD, who has served as past president of The Aesthetic Society, says although he cannot comment on this particular case, in general it is common to have combination surgeries when it is an appropriate candidate with medical clearance—however, not every combination should be done. “It’s often done due to convenience and the lower cost of having multiple procedures, but the primary aspect for any patient in any procedure should always be safety,” says Singer.

“For a combination like this,” he adds, “most fully trained, ethical plastic surgeons would have some concern about doing it. As you increase the length of the surgery and anesthesia, the risk for potential complications goes up. The general guideline that most surgeons try to adhere to is less than six hours for an elective procedure, but that is not a rigid requirement.”

Dr. Singer also notes that patients should go to surgical specialists trained to perform their chosen surgery. In the case of Cooperman, Dr. Westine is a facial plastic surgeon who is not trained, nor board certified to perform procedures underneath the head and neck: “If someone is considering having a surgical procedure, they should go to an individual who has full training in that area. That surgeon should be following the practice guidelines for their specialty training.”

Cooperman’s family is also suing the overnight nurse who they say failed to provide the appropriate emergency care and made little attempt to revive her. Eugene, OR plastic surgeon Mark Jewell, MD believes the combination of nasal packing and chest and breast binder used during the procedure, narcotic pain medication, and what he calls “monitoring by a poorly trained staff” most likely contributed to Cooperman’s untimely death. “There may be other factors,” he says, “but it appears to be a matter of poor decision-making on the part of the plastic surgeon and failure to address a respiratory arrest.” Patients should be placed in an accredited facility that has a follows appropriate guideline for staffing and monitoring for 24 hours. 

While the legal journey has just begun, Cooperman’s case serves as a reminder to patients of the various factors that help reduce surgical risk, including finding a properly trained and qualified specialist, having the safest post-operative care and following surgical and procedural guidelines and limits. Patients should consider what the safest options are, rather than trying to do the most in the shortest amount of time. As Dr. Singer says, “Just because it can be done doesn’t mean it should be done.”

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