Doctor Explains Risks of Liposuction, What Patients Should Know Before Having Elective Surgery

·3 min read
Gurney in hospital hallway
Gurney in hospital hallway


Elective surgeries, as all procedures, can come with a number of risks that can sometimes be fatal.

Last week, an autopsy report revealed that Mary Jane Thomas, the wife of country singer Hank Williams Jr., died in March of a collapsed lung that was punctured during a liposuction surgery.

PEOPLE spoke with Dr. Michael K. Obeng, a Los Angeles-based plastic surgeon, to discuss the possible risks of similar procedures and what due diligence patients should take before getting them.

Complications similar to Thomas' can always be a possibility "in the wrong hands," Obeng admits.

"Traumatic pneumothorax [collapsed lung] can arise from any procedure around the lungs. So if somebody is careless or not paying too much attention and they go deep, they can puncture the lung," he tells PEOPLE. "I personally have witnessed, in a very big hospital, a very renowned surgeon got into somebody's kidney during lipo."

"So people think liposuction is a very easy operation, but it's one operation that every time I'm doing it, I have to know exactly where the tip of my cannula [the suction tube] is because I don't take it for granted," he adds. "It could be dangerous."

RELATED: Hank Williams Jr.'s Wife Mary Jane Thomas' Cause of Death Confirmed By Coroner 4 Months After Death

Liposuction is a surgical procedure that involves using a suction technique to remove fat and shape specific areas of the body like the hips, abdomen, waist, thighs, arms, buttocks, neck, cheeks and more. Experts note that the procedure is not a treatment for obesity and cannot be done as a substitute for proper exercise and diet.

According to Obeng, general risks from any elective surgeries can include infection, scarring, nerve damage, a seroma [collection of fluid] and a hematoma [collection of blood]. Additionally, liposuction carries other risks like chronic pain, unevenness or lumpiness, or heart attacks, which Obeng says can be a risk for any surgery with general anesthesia.

"There are these risks that you carry and we talk to patients about that, and of course we limit these complications by thoroughly working with our patients," he explains.

Obeng says surgeons should be checking complete metabolic profiles, complete blood counts (platelet, hematocrit, hemoglobin) and EKGs (electrocardiogram reading) for any possible heart conditions, coagulation profiles, and more before walking into a surgery.

"All of these are things that we have to take into account and any good doctor will do that," he says. "But it's unfortunate, you can do all these things and you can still get complications, such as a pneumothorax that happened to this country singer's wife."

RELATED:Amy Schumer Is 'Feeling Really Good' After Getting Liposuction: 'I Just Want to Be Real About It'

While plastic surgeons should take these steps before a procedure, Obeng recommends patients practice their own due diligence ahead of committing to a doctor.

Obeng says all patients — especially those who travel to other countries for surgeries at a cheaper price — should make sure their doctors are board certified with the American Board of Plastic Surgery. He notes that it is a red flag if a surgeon is unable to provide proof of certification. Obeng adds that patients should also make sure their surgeon has hospital privileges at the facility where the procedure will take place.

"It's sad every year we have these calamities and casualties from people going to the Dominican Republic and dying or in Mexico or in Turkey and even in our own backyard — a lot of deaths are reported from the state of Florida," Obeng says. "A lot of unlicensed physicians or improperly trained physicians or surgeons doing what plastic surgeons do because of the lucrative nature of our business."

"So what I tell patients, make sure your doctor is board certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. There's only one board that certifies plastic surgeons and that's the American Board of Plastic Surgery," he continues. "Make sure the person has also completed at least five years training in plastic surgery combined or they've done a general surgery and completed a minimum of two years of plastic surgery fellowship. These are some of the checks and balances that every patient should ask the doctor."

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