SCARRED FOR LIFE

THESE WOMEN FOUND OUT THE HARD WAY WHY THE COSMETIC SURGERY CLINIC THEY CHOSE WAS UNDER INVESTIGATION

Sue Holmes eyed the newspaper ad like a hungry fish eyes a worm. "I remember exactly what it said," she recalls. "`Free consultation with one of Arizona's leading cosmetic surgeons! No visible scars!' I'd been thinking about doing something like that for a long time. It sounded great."

Since the birth of her son seven years earlier, the 27-year-old Mesa computer saleswoman had become increasingly uncomfortable with a change in her body: "My breasts were sagging, okay? You have a kid, it happens, but I didn't like it. I just wanted a doctor to lift them surgically. Thought it'd be routine."

So Holmes--not her real name--arranged an appointment at the Cosmetic Surgery Center of Scottsdale, located on East Camelback Road. Revealing photographs of supposedly satisfied customers decorated the clinic's walls. Everything seemed clean, everyone seemed friendly. Holmes met there with Sharon Mesa, who sold her hard and fast on the wonders of cosmetic surgery.

"At one point," Holmes says, "Sharon lifted up her blouse and showed me her breasts. She says to me, proudly, `Dr. Rosen did these. He's gonna be your doctor. Look at this great job. Look at how beautiful.'"

Holmes put down $300 as a deposit and, last September 5, returned to the clinic for her operation. She brought along a $2,500 cashier's check to complete her payment.

As she waited on a gurney minutes before her surgery started, she met Dr. Baruch Rosen for the first time. She saw a short, overweight 49-year-old with a mild manner. Holmes says the doctor never examined her until they reached the operating room. "I didn't think there was going to be a size difference," she says. "I thought it was going to be a lift with a little more fullness, that's all."

What Holmes got was an implant, a procedure in which a doctor makes the breast larger by placing the implant under the breast tissue or beneath the chest muscle.

The day after the operation, Holmes returned to the clinic to get her bandages removed and to see her "new" breasts for the first time. "I looked like Dolly Parton," she says. "I couldn't believe it. He had made me enormous. I was gargantuan. I'm no dummy, but I got duped."

Holmes started crying, and ģMD120Įremembers Sharon Mesa telling her, "`We didn't do right by you. Come back in a few months and we'll do a reduction.'"

Holmes didn't know that she'd unwittingly stepped into a clinic that was being investigated separately by the Arizona Board of Medical Examiners--the state's self-policing medical agency, known as BOMEX--and the Scottsdale police.

Within weeks, the Cosmetic Surgery Center of Scottsdale closed and BOMEX had served Rosen with a laundry list of serious charges. In the months since then, Sue Holmes has learned many things about Dr. Rosen and the Cosmetic Surgery Center of Scottsdale. It was a place run by doctors--one still practicing medicine--who misrepresented themselves both to authorities and to patients.

Late last year, Holmes sued Rosen, the estate of Rosen's late partner, and the clinic's marketing director for "consumer fraud," among other charges.

She's not alone. Another of the clinic's unhappy patients has joined in Sue Holmes' lawsuit, alleging that she "has experienced disfigurement, disability, pain and suffering" since a July 1990 stomach operation at the clinic. Becky Wilson--not her real name--claims the surgery left her with a hideously lopsided midsection that later required restorative surgery by another doctor.

Court depositions taken in connection with the case reveal an ill-trained doctor and his unlicensed partner wreaking havoc with the health of patients for months without oversight or detection by authorities:

* Baruch Rosen is a family practitioner whose only cosmetic surgery experience before 1990 was from the neck up--mostly eyelid reconstruction and face peels. He is not "one of Arizona's leading cosmetic surgeons," as a newspaper ad once suggested.

* Dr. Rosen's insurance policy did not include liability coverage for cosmetic surgery. "I would not have been able to cover the premium," Rosen says. And even if he could have, the doctor adds, "I think they [the insurance company] stipulated a plastic surgery training background." Rosen didn't have such a background. The lack of insurance coverage meant no second opinions by an expert outside the clinic. It also may mean little financial recourse for cosmetic surgery patients such as Sue Even Sharon Mesa can't pat him on the back publicly. Turns out it was Joe Naud, not Baruch Rosen, who had done her breast job.

"There were a lot of things that shouldn't have been done," Mesa admits of the clinic. "This girl [Holmes] should have never been operated on. She was given a breast augmentation because he didn't know how to do an uplift . . . . But, there again, if money comes into it, maybe that's where it's at. I really don't know."

EVEN JANE FONDA seems to be bustier these days, and the gossip rags claim it's not because of her workout tape. Twenty years ago, no one would have suggested even in jest that an implant might be in her future.

In those days, Fonda embraced--at least publicly--the signs of aging. "Wrinkles are a part of who we are, or where we've been," she wrote in the 1970s. "Not to have wrinkles means never having laughed or cried or expressed passion."

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