Maui woman
wins lawsuit over
bad breast surgery

A jury finds a doctor
did not receive patient
consent for his method

By Debra Barayuga

A Hawaii plastic surgeon lauded as "Physician of the Year" in 2000 has been ordered to pay $864,000 to a former female body builder who said an implant operation left her with malformed breasts.

A Maui Circuit Court jury deliberated for more than two days before reaching a verdict yesterday finding that Dr. S. Larry Schlesinger, president of Maui Plastic Surgery, had not received the consent of Sharon Johnston, 46, of Kihei, for the surgery.

Denise Sangster, one of the attorneys for Johnston, said the malpractice suit verdict sends a message that a person has a right to decide what happens to her own body.

Johnston, who had competed in bodybuilding contests on the mainland, went to Schlesinger in September 1997 for breast augmentation.

The issue at trial was whether Johnston had given informed consent for the procedure. Schlesinger said that although he initially agreed to insert implants under the chest muscle, he made a surgical decision to place the implants on top of the muscle. He contended that he received Johnston's permission the morning of the surgery and that two other nurses overheard the conversation and made notes about it.

"My position was if I had gone below (the muscle), it would have led to significant complications, so I felt I did the right surgery," Schlesinger said. "I was the good guy and went against what I told her originally."

His attorney, George Playdon, said they are disappointed by the verdict and he does not believe it will be sustained on appeal.

Johnston contended she gave permission to put the implants under the muscle and that the conversation where she allegedly gave consent for them to be placed on top never took place. Schlesinger told her about the conversation where she allegedly changed her mind a month after the surgery, Sangster said.

Sangster maintained at trial that the notes written by the nurses were falsified to reflect consent that was never given.

After surgery, Johnston became inhibited and did not want to be seen, Sangster said. She said the implants have caused "a rippling" effect on Johnston's breasts and other distortions.

Of the amount awarded by the jury, $567,000 were for punitive damages, including battery and falsification of records. When no consent is given, surgery is considered battery.

"I'm shocked," Schlesinger said after learning the verdict yesterday afternoon. "I only tried to help Sharon Johnston, and her expert witness agreed there was no injury from the surgery whatsoever."

Schlesinger has performed plastic surgery for 22 years in Hawaii. In 2000, he received Hawaii Medical Association's "Physician of the Year" award. He was the first plastic surgeon nominated for the award in HMA's 114-year history.

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