By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
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But he did say that one plastic surgeon having four patients die in seven years is "worrisome." Although he did not know details of the Strax cases and was reluctant to say anything negative about physicians he had never met, he added, "I would hope the state [medical] board would take a very close look at this situation," referring to Gordon.
Dr. Alberto Gallerani, a plastic surgeon in Aventura, has harsher words: "Doctors end up working in places like Strax because they can't work on their own."
Strax is "really set up as a factory," Gallerani adds.
Gallerani claims that he performs corrective surgery for people unhappy with work they received at Strax. Gallerani gets some of his patients from Coral Gables attorney Spencer Aronfeld, who has been handling plastic-surgery cases for 20 years. Aronfeld says he's now reviewing 30 or 40 cases from patients wanting to sue Strax. Those clients include Vargas, who intends to file a lawsuit against Strax for Zelaya's death.
The Broward Circuit Court docket shows that six other malpractice and negligence cases have been filed against Strax since 2006. Five of the cases are still pending; the other was dismissed and sent to arbitration.
Although Feanny maintains that Gordon did nothing wrong in Zelaya's case and that a fat embolism is a rare but possible complication of liposuction, Aronfeld says his medical expert's theory is that Gordon injected too much fat deeply into Zelaya's body, raising the risk of complication. "There's no way to ascertain with exact specifics how far or how deep the fat was done," Aronfeld says. But "the most likely cause was it being too much, too deep."
For Vargas, after his wife died, weeks passed in a blur of grief. Gordon sent Vargas a condolence card. "I'm so sorry," he wrote.
Strax asked Gordon to temporarily stop seeing patients after Zelaya's death, but because of Gordon's "personal feelings," his absence might be permanent, Feanny says.
Vargas can't talk about his wife without weeping. "It's very, very difficult for me," he says through tears during a meeting at Aronfeld's office. Every day, he visits Zelaya at the cemetery. For a while, he contemplated joining her. "Sometimes I prefer I am dead too."
No longer able to afford the home he shared with Zelaya, Vargas moved in with her mother and sister. He lost his health insurance, which his wife's job had covered. He's now working two jobs and paying out of pocket when he needs to see a doctor about his depression.
After the meeting with Aronfeld, Vargas walks to his car. If he turns on the radio, a reminder of his wife will be nearly impossible to avoid.
"At Strax, 16 board-certified surgeons have performed over 29,000 successful surgeries," the radio DJ chirps. "Now it can be your turn!"