Health Care

For Miami butt lift doctor, medical board proposes permanent ban on cosmetic surgery

Florida’s medical board accused a Miami surgeon on Friday of misleading patients, endangering their lives and lacking sufficient training to perform cosmetic surgery after one of his patients died in December 2017 during a liposuction and fat transfer procedure at a strip mall surgery center associated with repeated patient injuries and deaths.

The Florida Board of Medicine, which oversees physician discipline, proposed during a hearing in West Palm Beach to suspend the medical license of Dr. Arnaldo Valls pending a peer review, permanently restrict Valls from performing cosmetic surgery again and issue him a $40,000 fine.

Valls, 75, has about a week to respond to the board’s proposed punishment. Valls can either accept the punishment or reject it and appeal to the First District Court of Appeals in Tallahassee.

Steven Rosenberg, a West Palm Beach dermatologist and chair of the medical board, said he proposed a tougher discipline than the Department of Health staff initially worked out for the doctor because he believed Valls is a danger to patients.

“I’m more concerned with his ability to practice medicine, period,” Rosenberg said.

“His training is inadequate. I’m not sure how much training he’s had over the years,” said Sarvam TerKonda, a Jacksonville plastic surgeon. “I don’t think he’s been completely straightforward in his answers to our questions.”

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Dr. Arnaldo Valls, 75, center, answers questions with the help of interpreter Gustavo Lairet, left, and his attorney, Alison Patino, during a Florida Board of Medicine’s hearing Friday, April 5, 2019, in West Palm Beach. Valls is charged with malpractice after one of his patients died during a Brazilian butt lift in December 2017 and another patient’s intestine was punctured during the same type of surgery in June 2016. Emily Michot

A general surgeon trained in Cuba and licensed as a doctor in Florida since 2001, Valls said he had no comment immediately after the medical board hearing. Ralph Patino, an attorney representing Valls, said his client likely will reject the board’s counteroffer and appeal.

During Friday’s hearing, Valls used a Spanish-language translator at times to answer the board’s questions and at other times Valls answered the questions in English himself.

“I can understand every question,” Valls told the board.

But when members of the medical board pressed Valls for details about his training in plastic surgery, the amount of fat he had injected into one patient’s buttocks and the information contained in his operative reports, Valls’ responses in English were not always intelligible.

Valls told the medical board that he does not use a translator when meeting with patients, but that he understands all of their questions and statements and that he can effectively communicate with them. Many cosmetic surgery patients travel to Miami from other states and they do not speak Spanish.

Valls appeared before the medical board to answer to complaints that he practiced substandard medicine during surgeries involving two patients on whom he performed liposuction and fat transfer to the buttocks, also known as a Brazilian butt lift.

The first patient was a 26-year-old woman from Boston in June 2016 when Valls allegedly punctured her abdominal muscle and tore her small intestine with the thin, metal rod used to suction and inject fat, causing the woman to develop a severe blood system infection, according to the health department’s complaint.

Rosenberg said during the hearing that the woman’s medical records indicated she may have been in the early stages of pregnancy and needed to wait several weeks for confirmatory testing. But Valls insisted that he ordered a urinalysis of the patient prior to surgery and that she was not pregnant. Pregnant women are considered unsuitable for liposuction due to the high risk.

The second patient was Kizzy London, a 40-year-old mother of two from Louisiana who died in December 2017 from fat clots in her heart and lungs, according to an autopsy report from the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s Office.

Both surgeries were performed at a strip mall surgery center at 8506 SW Eighth St. in Miami associated with repeated patient injuries and deaths as well as deceptive business practices. The clinic was named Vanity Cosmetic Surgery in 2016 and is now named Jolie Plastic Surgery. Valls testified on Friday that he still works for Jolie, although he is restricted at this time from performing liposuction.

A general surgeon who once worked as a kidney transplant surgeon in Cuba, Valls told the board he has performed nearly 2,000 Brazilian butt lifts and more than 3,000 liposuction procedures.

Despite his experience, Valls is not board certified in any medical specialty. He said he trained with other plastic surgeons who are board certified, and that he had taken courses, including one in Miami as recently as February, where he practiced on cadavers.

But members of the medical board accused Valls of misleading patients by using consent forms that contained the logo and name of the American Society of Plastic Surgery, implying that Valls was board certified in plastic surgery.

“I think the patient has been misled with paperwork that suggests plastic surgery is being done by a plastic surgeon,” Rosenberg said during the hearing.

Daniel Chang covers health care for the Miami Herald, where he works to untangle the often irrational world of health insurance, hospitals and health policy for readers.