Kanawha woman says plastic surgeon botched breast surgery

By Cara Bailey | Oct 16, 2008


CHARLESTON - A Kanawha County woman has filed a medical malpractice suit against a local plastic surgeon, claiming he botched her breast reconstruction surgery.

Ellen Hickman filed a suit Sept. 3 in Kanawha Circuit Court against John Wesley Culpepper, a physician at Plastic Surgery Center, as well as Charleston Area Medical Center.

According to the suit, Hickman underwent two procedures performed by Culpepper. The first was in March 2007 and included prophylactic mastectomies of her right and left breasts, as well as accompanying reconstructions.

The second procedure was 12 days later and was an attempt to correct errors in the previous procedure, the suit says.

Hickman claims Culpepper oversaw her mastectomies and performed her breast reconstruction, using permanent implants. A nipple grafting procedure also was performed.

According to the suit, Hickman was "shocked by her appearance after surgery," and asked Culpepper if her implants would ever look like breasts. She claims his response was, "Well, we hope so," the suit says.

Hickman claims she was discharged and went home. However, over the next several days, she noticed an increasing pain in her right side, noticed a complete lack of symmetry in her very noticeable scarring and saw her implants changing size, position and shape, the suit says.

Her right implant moved under her right arm and her left implant began moving toward her left shoulder area. Her nipples and suture lines began to rot, producing the smell of decaying flesh, the suit says.

According to the suit, Hickman complained to Culpepper about the problems, and advised her on steps to take to reverse his results.

"With a grotesquely misshapen appearance, cadaver-like scarring, the smell of rotting flesh, and her right side in constant pain, Mrs. Hickman followed Dr. Culpepper's advice," the suit says.

Hickman claims her body began to show numerous signs of serious infection, including her nipples decaying and her suture lines become necrotic.

On March 14, Culpepper performed the second procedure, to alleviate some of Hickman's problems, but she claims it created more for her. According to the suit, She could no longer use her left arm to perform tasks such as putting dishes in the cabinet or washing her hair.

Hickman claims she asked for and eventually sought her own referral to another plastic surgeon. However, due to the two surgical procedures performed by Culpepper, Hickman was not only permanently scarred and disfigured, she also lost dexterity and function in her left arm.

Not being able to push a medication cart without pain, she resigned from her job as a nurse, the suit says.

Preston Hickman claims he has suffered the loss of consortium from his wife. Together, in the five-count suit, the Hickmans seek compensatory and punitive damages.

Attorney Teresa C. Toriseva is representing the Hickmans. The case has been assigned to Judge Charles King.

Kanawha Circuit Court case number 08-C-1698

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