2 women accuse Phoenix doctor of drunken, botched plastic surgeries | Phoenix New Times

2 women accuse Phoenix doctor of drunken, botched plastic surgeries

‘You feel like Frankenstein’: The women sued over procedures they say left them horrified, disfigured and depressed.
Two women are suing Dr. Bradley Becker for medical negligence over claims that he botched their plastic surgeries.
Two women are suing Dr. Bradley Becker for medical negligence over claims that he botched their plastic surgeries. Graphic by Emma Randall
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Wendy Ellsworth was suspicious when the plastic surgeon about to put her under the knife entered the preoperative room and allegedly reeked of alcohol.

“I knew there was something wrong when he just said, ‘Alright, let’s go to the operating room,’ and he hadn’t marked me up,” Ellsworth told Phoenix New Times.

When she questioned whether the doctor was going to mark the surgical site, Ellsworth said, “He was very obviously annoyed that I would even ask.”

The surgeon sighed and instructed her to lift her gown, Ellsworth said. She was alarmed that the markup for her breast reduction and tummy tuck surgery took about 30 seconds. The process took 45 minutes when a different surgeon marked her before the corrective surgery she needed almost two years later, she said.

Though confused and fearful, Ellsworth felt it was too late to walk out of Banner Estrella Medical Center, where the surgeon has a contract to operate. She convinced herself to trust the process and let the anesthesia settle over her.

“I had put my money down. The way he was acting, there was no way he was gonna give me my money back,” she said. “And so, I just kept going, ‘Wait a minute. This is Banner. There’s no way Banner would let an inebriated doctor operate on people.’”

But the surgery on Oct. 5, 2021, left Ellsworth “horrified to find that her body was substantially disfigured from the cosmetic surgery,” according to a lawsuit.

Ellsworth sued Dr. Bradley Becker in Maricopa County Superior Court on Sept. 30, accusing the Glendale plastic and reconstructive surgeon of medical negligence, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The suit also claimed that the emotional distress from the procedure caused a loss of consortium between Ellsworth and her husband, leading to “significant anxiety and distress” between the couple and impacting their marriage.

The lawsuit is seeking medical expenses, damages for future pain and suffering, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees and expenses. It’s one of two recent suits accusing Becker of performing plastic surgeries while drunk and botching the operations.

In the weeks after Ellsworth removed the bandages from the procedure, she was horrified by the results of her $16,000 surgery. Extra skin that was supposed to be removed during the tummy tuck operation sagged off her body, with scars that time did not heal, according to the lawsuit. Her breasts were misaligned and disfigured, with one larger than the other. On one she developed what several doctors later called a hematoma, a large purple and yellow bruise. She said Becker disputed that description.

“It’s hard to feel like you can go out when you feel like Frankenstein,” Ellsworth said, tearing up. “I didn’t go to family parties. I didn’t want to go anywhere. I didn’t want to dress up. If I went anywhere, I would wear really tight undergarments, trying to tuck all the extra skin they didn’t take. The whole point of a tummy tuck is to not have that.”

Becker’s office did not respond to a request for comment from New Times. In his Nov. 17 response to the lawsuit, Becker said he “complied with the standard of care” and that he was not impaired during the surgery.

“Defendants deny that Dr. Becker had consumed alcohol, was under the influence of alcohol or in any way impaired at the time of the medical care provided by Plaintiff,” according to the court document.

Banner Health, the largest employer in Arizona, did not respond to a request for comment. The health system also did not respond to questions about its affiliation with Becker and whether he still performs surgery at its facilities.
click to enlarge Wendy Ellsworth
Wendy Ellsworth refers to the unsightly scars left after her plastic surgery as a "second asshole."
Courtesy Wendy Ellsworth

A second lawsuit against Bradley Becker

In September, a month after her corrective surgery, Ellsworth said she finally had enough courage to share pictures of herself after both surgeries on a Facebook tummy tuck group. She said Alicia Armijo and one other woman contacted her and accused Becker of also botching their surgeries. When Ellsworth asked if the others thought Becker performed their surgeries while impaired, Armijo mentioned she noticed a strong odor of alcohol on him.

“At that point, I was like, so this is not just me,” Ellsworth said. “This is not just me having unrealistic expectations. This is a problem, especially if two other people have the same experience.”

Armijo, whose tummy tuck surgery took place March 22, sued Becker on Oct. 2. Like Ellsworth, she sued for negligence, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The lawsuit is seeking prior and future medical expenses, damages for future pain and suffering, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees and expenses.

“Plaintiff has suffered extreme emotional distress, not only over the outcome of her surgery, but the fact that Defendant was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the surgery and should not have begun the surgery in his altered state,” according to the lawsuit. “In the weeks and months following the surgery by Defendant, Plaintiff was constantly weeping, deeply upset about the outcome, and in a state of despair.”

Becker, in a response filed Nov. 22, said he provided “reasonable care” to Armijo. He also denied being intoxicated while treating her.

In addition to their lawsuits, Ellsworth and Armijo filed complaints in October and December with the Arizona Board of Osteopathic Examiners in Medicine and Surgery, the state board that licensed Becker.

Complaints to the board are not available on the board’s website. However, Becker has not received discipline for any complaints within the last five years, according to the board’s website portal.

The board declined to comment on Ellsworth and Armijo’s complaint.
click to enlarge Alicia Armijo
Alicia Armijo said her plastic surgery left her struggling with body dysmorphia.
Courtesy Alicia Armijo

‘All this time, I thought I was talking to a nurse’

Armijo said weeks before her scheduled surgery earlier in March, she connected online with a woman who was deeply disappointed with the results of the operation Becker had performed on her. She urged Armijo not to go through with the surgery and encouraged Armijo to ask for her $12,000 payment to be returned.

Armijo did ask for a refund, but Becker’s office said it would not return her money. She decided to go through with the operation, hoping the woman’s results were a fluke and taking solace in the positive reviews she saw on Facebook and Google.

“On social media, a lot of people drop off cookies and sweets (to Becker’s office), like every day apparently,” Armijo said.

When she arrived at Banner Estrella Medical Center for her surgery, she said Becker acted and smelled similar to the way her father, a lifelong alcoholic, acted after a night of drinking.

“I know for a fact that when he came into the room and got close to me, I smelled lingering alcohol on him,” Armijo said. “I was so scared. I was like, ‘Okay, well maybe I’m making up excuses in my head,’ because there was no backing out.”

Just like for Ellsworth, the markup was not what Armijo expected. She said the lines Becker drew were nothing like what she had seen in the videos of operations that she spent time studying.

After their surgeries, both Ellsworth and Armijo alleged they were left with unsightly scars below their stomachs. Ellsworth refers to hers as a “second asshole.” For both women, the experience after the surgery was just as nightmarish.

They were in contact with an assistant of Becker’s, Ioana Baragau, who is a defendant in both suits. Ellsworth said Baragau insisted in text messages that the surgeries had gone very well.

“She (Baragau) would tell me what to do,” Armijo said. “When I was doing the wound care, she was the one giving me instructions. She was giving me all the medical advice that I would expect Dr. Becker to be calling or texting me about.”

When Ellsworth questioned the quality of the operation, she said Baragau became agitated and rude and made angry phone calls to Ellsworth, followed by friendly, encouraging text messages.

Ellsworth later realized Baragau and Becker were romantic partners when she noticed on Instagram that they were celebrating an anniversary. She inspected Baragau’s LinkedIn profile and saw her job history denoted that through 2017 she was a cardiac sonographer. The position uses imaging technology to help doctors diagnose heart problems.

“All this time, I thought I was talking to a nurse. And I wasn’t,” Ellsworth said. Armijo said she also believed Baragau was a nurse until Ellsworth told her about the results of her internet searches.

Baragau declined to answer questions from New Times and referred a request for comment to her attorney. Written questions were emailed to Becker’s office about Baragau’s title, employment history, the nature of Becker's relationship with her and whether she is licensed to provide care. No one responded.

Baragau’s attorney declined to comment on the lawsuits.

In Becker’s response to Ellsworth’s lawsuit, Baragau is identified as his girlfriend and office manager. The response said Baragau is a trained health care provider but does not provide additional details.

In a YouTube video posted in August 2022, Baragau said she met Becker in 2010 when he performed surgery to remove her breast implants.

“I felt very comfortable the minute I met him,” Baragau said in the video. “Dr. Becker is so laid back, not your typical plastic surgeon.“
click to enlarge
Bradley Becker's suburban plastic surgery office is off 79th Avenue in Glendale.
Matt Hennie

‘I just wanted to be invisible’

Ellsworth did not feel comfortable going to her six-month postoperative meeting and saw Becker 10 months after her surgery. She brought her daughter with her because she was scared to be around Becker.

According to Ellsworth’s lawsuit, Becker began their meeting by entering the room and saying, “Alright Wendy, start complaining.”

Ellsworth left the meeting frustrated that Becker kept telling her that her surgery was successful and there was nothing to worry about.

Armijo never attended her six-month follow-up appointment.

“I felt like they were just going to tell me that I just needed to wait, which is exactly what they did,” Armijo said. “And I left shaking, because I was like, ‘I don’t think that’s the case. I don’t think you did a good job.’”

Armijo said she knew she would need corrective surgery three months after her operation. She consulted a surgeon with 12 years of experience in performing tummy tucks, who said she was certain Armijo would need another surgery. A different surgeon told Armijo she would need to take another 3 to 4 inches of skin.

But Armijo said she isn’t in a financial position to have another surgery that will cost at least the same as what she paid Becker — about $12,000.

“The body dysmorphia that set in after surgery, which I never had before, is depressing,” Armijo said.

She started counseling to deal with the emotional pain after Becker’s surgery. She said she struggled to work because of the physical demands of the recovery in addition to her anxiety and depression.

Ellsworth and her husband, Tyler, also dealt with financial difficulties in the wake of the surgery with Becker. Ellsworth's debilitating depression changed their lives.

“I just wanted to be invisible,” Ellsworth said.

Tyler Ellsworth said he had to take a second job to save money for a second surgery for his wife. He worked at a movie theater until midnight after leaving his day job in web hosting.

“Dr. Becker destroyed my wife. He destroyed who she was,” Tyler Ellsworth wrote in a letter to the osteopathic board. “The crushing depression and anguish she has gone through is indescribable. His cuts went deeper than just removing skin from her stomach and breasts and quite literally scarring her for life.”

Ellsworth underwent corrective surgery in August and was pleased by the results, though it cost $25,000. She said after eight weeks, the scars have mostly healed.

Armijo said after connecting with Ellsworth and finding out that other women experienced what she did, she filed the lawsuit and a complaint with the osteopathic board. She said she was worried that more women are “keeping their mouths shut” out of fear or hopelessness.

“I did feel like no one would listen, and that caused more depression,” Armijo said. “I just want people to know so another woman doesn’t go through this.”
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