PHOENIX — Bruce Tucker never thought getting liposuction surgery would lead to a years-long legal battle. But it did.
In September 2019, Tucker laid out his many issues in a malpractice lawsuit filed against Jose Ortiz, the naturopathic physician who performed the liposuction surgery.
Among the issues, Tucker said he could feel the surgery happening.
“It was starting to really hurt to where I was kind of grunting,” Tucker recalled. “Telling him to re-numb me because I was feeling every jab that they made.”
He also claimed the surgery healed lopsided and left him scarred with hardened fluid around his abdomen that still causes him pain.
“I have like ribbons of hardened flesh underneath,” Tucker described. “I'm a stomach sleeper. I have not been able to sleep on my stomach since, because it hurts to put pressure on that.”
Three years later, a judge has dismissed four out of five of Tucker's claims, including medical negligence and unlicensed practice of medicine. The only claim that still stands is battery.
David Cohen, Ortiz's attorney, released the following statement to 12News:
"This patient has filed a total of 15 separate complaints against Dr. Jose Ortiz with the Arizona Naturopathic Physicians Medical Board. The Board properly dismissed 14 of those complaints, and did not discipline Dr. Ortiz or find that he acted outside the scope of his license.
This patient also filed a lawsuit containing 5 separate counts against Dr. Ortiz. The Court properly dismissed 4 of those counts, and the remaining count does not have merit."
Tucker's attorney calls out loophole in Arizona law
Robert Gregory, Tucker's attorney, believes the claims were tossed because of a loophole in Arizona law that he is now calling on lawmakers to close.
Gregory explains according to Arizona law 12-2604, he was required to find another naturopath who also performs cosmetic surgeries to serve as an expert witness in Tucker's case.
Gregory had a naturopathic physician and a plastic surgeon prepared to testify against Ortiz, both arguing that naturopaths are not qualified to perform liposuction.
The judge ruled neither of them was an acceptable expert witness because the naturopath had never done liposuction and the plastic surgeon, who had done liposuction, is not a naturopath.
“What happens when that naturopathic medical doctor is practicing outside the scope of their license? That begs the question, what kind of expert do you need?" Gregory said.
In his ruling, Judge Stephen Hopkins wrote, "The court shares the concern of Plaintiff's counsel that a physician practicing far beyond the bounds of his area of practice could 'remove himself from scrutiny' under the statute. But this court doe snot have the power to re-write the statute."
“That's just one of the reasons that has to be changed," Gregory said.
No defined scope of practice for naturopaths
Gregory is now teaming up with other Valley attorneys to continue their fight. They are setting their sights on higher courts.
“No court has taken up this issue to date," Gregory said. "We can't leave the public unprotected.”
Gregory is also joining others in calling on lawmakers to define the scope of practice for naturopaths.
Gregory said one of the first questions he had after hearing Tucker's story was why was the naturopath was performing liposuction surgery in the first place.
“You just can't go out and anoint yourself, 'I'm now a cosmetic surgeon,'" Gregory said. "We could find no law anywhere, not in Arizona, no medical publications or periodicals or practice guides, anything that would say that a naturopathic medical doctor can do liposuction surgery.”
According to Ortiz's response to Tucker's lawsuit, Ortiz has been doing liposuction since 2009.
“Which is troubling," Gregory responded. "I don't know that that is a statement that is something that he ought to be proud of. I think that's a statement of how has this been going on since 2009 and not been addressed and remedied?"
The 12News I-Team has learned some naturopaths in Arizona are also performing Brazilian butt lifts, a surgery that has a mortality rate as high as 3 to 4 percent and is considered one of the most dangerous cosmetic procedures that exist.
“Even if it’s done correctly you could still have complications that are serious,” said Dr. Sean Lille, a Scottsdale-based plastic surgeon certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery.
Already, naturopaths in Arizona have an expanded scope when it comes to prescribing medications. Naturopaths here can prescribe controlled substances and are issued DEA numbers.
In some states, naturopaths are prohibited from practicing medicine at all. In fact, only 23 states allow for naturopathic medicine, according to the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges.
The American and Arizona Societies of Plastic Surgeons have also weighed in on the issue. Earlier this year, they sent a letter to Arizona lawmakers, calling on them to pursue legislation to stop naturopaths from performing cosmetic surgeries.
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