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Tijuana doctor charged in cosmetic surgery death of Southern California woman

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Nearly two years after a Long Beach mother died during cosmetic surgery in Tijuana, prosecutors in Baja California have charged the doctor who performed the procedure with negligent manslaughter, a judge hearing ruled on Friday that there was enough evidence to move the case forward.

The doctor is charged in Baja California state court with manslaughter for malpractice and negligence in the January 2021 death of Keuana Weaver, 38, a mother of two. He is also accused of a crime related to the exercise of a function that he is not authorized to perform.

Under Mexican rules allowing media access to criminal proceedings, the doctor must be publicly referred to by his first name only. In previous coverage of the death, the Union-Tribune identified the doctor by his full name, Jesús Manuel Báez López.

The doctor appeared on video Wednesday in a Tijuana courtroom for an initial arraignment-like hearing, according to Tijuana news outlet Punto Norte. On Friday, he testified via video in a day-long hearing in which prosecutors presented preliminary evidence to the judge.

At the end of Friday’s hearing, the judge ruled there was enough initial evidence to charge the doctor. His defense attorney, who also appeared by video, could not be reached after the hearing.

Weaver’s family said she died on Jan. 29, 2021, on the operating table at Art Siluette Aesthetic Surgery Clinic while undergoing liposuction and abdominoplasty. Báez was listed as director of the clinic.

“I’m glad something’s been done, hopefully they follow through,” Renee Weaver, Keuana’s mother, said by phone Thursday the day she learned of the criminal charge. She said the doctor had “tried to cover up” her daughter’s death.

“It was wrong. He should pay for it,” Renee Weaver said. “But I can’t really celebrate yet. When they say he’s going to jail, then I’ll celebrate.

Testifying on Friday, the doctor did not dispute that Weaver died in his clinic, saying he tried unsuccessfully to revive her. He said he didn’t “wish anyone to go through a time like this”, adding: “Since I trained as a doctor, I’ve always wanted to help people, not hurt them. ”

But he said Weaver knew of the risks associated with the procedures.

A court-appointed lawyer to represent the victim’s interests argued that the document explaining the risks was in Spanish – which was not Weaver’s primary language. Prosecutors also argued that Weaver’s signature was missing from some key documents.

Prosecutors blamed Weaver’s death on the doctor’s poor performance and also argued that he was not certified to perform the procedures he was performing. The doctor insisted that he had the expertise and knowledge to perform the surgeries.

A Union-Tribune investigation last year found Báez had earned a two-year master’s degree in cosmetic surgery – another surgeon said he was referring to minor procedures like Botox injections – but seemed to be missing out. references as a certified plastic surgeon. Prosecutors argued Friday that the university may not be properly accredited.

Although Weaver’s death was the most serious case – prompting the FBI to open an investigation – two other women also told the Union-Tribune that they were suffering from apparently botched surgeries at Báez’s clinic this that day.

Weaver’s friend, Kanisha Davis, said she and Weaver went to the clinic together for the same liposuction and tummy tuck procedures. Davis’ husband drove her home to California after learning of Weaver’s death, she said, and soon Davis began bleeding internally and throwing up projectiles.

She said she ultimately needed ambulance transport to an emergency room and a two-week hospitalization. “If I hadn’t gone to the hospital when I did, I would have died,” Davis told the Union-Tribune last year, saying hospital staff told him that she was bleeding internally and she had a hematoma or internal pooling of blood.

Esmeralda Iniguez told the Union-Tribune last year that she underwent surgery on the same day as Weaver and Davis at the same clinic. A few days later, in septic shock, she had to be transported across the border to an emergency room in Chula Vista.

“It tightened my abdominal muscles too much, crushing all my organs together and cutting off the blood supply to my kidneys, causing what is called abdominal compartment syndrome,” Iniguez said in April 2021.

U.S. residents often seek low-cost medical care, including cosmetic procedures, in Tijuana. But doctors warn that shopping at low prices for such surgeries can be risky. In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning after 11 Americans who underwent weight loss procedures in the border town returned home with antibiotic-resistant infections.

Officials in Mexico and Baja California have developed the state’s “medical tourism” industry in recent years, even opening a special medical pathway in 2011 that allowed American patients of registered Mexican doctors to avoid the mostly the notoriously long waits at the San Ysidro vehicle border. crossing.

Baja California’s Secretary of Sustainable Economy and Tourism estimates the industry has tripled in recent years, from 800,000 documented medical tourists in 2014 to 2.4 million in 2018, generating annual revenues of more than $1.7 billion. This includes the ripple effect of spending in luxury hotels and restaurants, where patients stay and eat before and after their procedures.

The FBI’s Los Angeles field office, which opened an investigation into Weaver’s death last year, did not respond to questions on Friday about the agency’s involvement in the criminal prosecution of the doctor. . The agency declined to comment last year when the Union-Tribune reported it was investigating Weaver’s death.

Bella Allen runs a Facebook group called “Botched Plastic Surgery in Mexico—Exposed,” which, as the name suggests, seeks to shed light on cosmetic surgeries gone wrong and the doctors who performed them, as well as to connect people to safe and trusted surgeons.

Allen said Báez stood out as a particularly dangerous surgeon, so much so that she created a separate group, “Botched by Baez in Tijuana”, where these experiences could be centralized.

“I’m so happy,” Allen said Thursday after learning the doctor was facing a criminal charge. She said it was high time for a Tijuana plastic surgeon to face criminal charges for shoddy and unsafe work.

“It starts with that. It should go down for all doctors.

Allen has read the stories or contacted dozens of women who claim Báez hurt or disfigured them. She said that based on the stories of these women and the research she and others have done, Báez appears to have routinely taken on riskier clients and promised unrealistic results to clients with higher body mass index. And she said he “often does a good job” — at least on the surface.

She compared her job to a plumber who comes into a house and stops a gushing leak from a cheap pipe. The owner is thrilled with the result and the cost – until much later when he discovers it has been repaired with duct tape and has been slowly leaking out of sight for years.

“You have no idea what he did behind that wall,” Allen said, ending the analogy. “Just because you look great, you have no idea how sloppy you are on the inside.”

As of 2014, Baja California state law dictates that only board-certified plastic surgeons can perform liposuction and other cosmetic procedures such as tummy tucks and “mommy makeovers.”

On a now-defunct website, Báez did not list qualifications as a plastic surgeon. He also did not list among his credentials any specialized training as a surgeon legally required to perform plastic surgery. He cited a master’s degree in “cosmetic surgery,” which usually refers to Botox and other minor treatments.

Mexico’s National Occupational Registry shows that Báez earned a bachelor’s degree in 2007 as a general practitioner from the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California, and in 2012 earned a two-year master’s degree in cosmetic surgery from the Institute of Advanced Studies in medicine.

A cosmetic surgery clinic that Báez previously operated – Clínica Santa Fe Medical Group – was among 10 in Tijuana that were closed in April 2015 by Mexico’s Federal Commission for Health Risk Protection for “not meeting minimum requirements to operate legally”.

A spokesperson for that commission declined to comment Friday on the criminal charges, citing the ongoing investigation.

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