One of Palm Beach County’s most notorious plastic surgeons is back on trial this week in a civil lawsuit that turns on whether he or Bethesda Memorial Hospital are responsible for horrific – and life-threatening – injuries suffered by a Connecticut woman who merely wanted to turn back the clock on her appearance.
Dr. Mark Schreiber, who lost his medical license in 2006 and spent two years in prison after botching several surgeries at his long-shuttered Boynton Beach office, won’t attend the trial that began Monday. He was arrested in Broward County last year on a Miami-Dade County warrant that charges him with practicing medicine without a license in a warehouse in Hialeah, leaving a trail of deformed patients, including a man who claims he now has a one-inch long penis.
Although he won’t be in the courtroom, Schreiber, who refused to respond to the lawsuit filed on behalf of Cheryl Volenec in 2008, will loom large during the trial in which she is expected to seek hundreds of thousands – if not millions – from the hospital.
During opening statements, attorney Barbara Sonneborn, who represents Bethesda, said hospital physicians performed heroically when the then-60-year-old Volenec arrived at the hospital in January 2006 after a 7 1/2-hour operation at Schreiber’s office went horribly awry.
“The most important issue was to save her life and that’s what the hospital did,” Sonneborn told the jury of four men and four women. When Volenec arrived after having surgery to tighten sagging skin that was left after she had a “full body liposuction” a year earlier, she had lost at least 50 percent and as much as two-thirds of all the blood in her body, she said.
While doctors knew that incisions Schreiber made on her back, stomach, legs and buttocks would eventually need treatment, they first had to make sure Volenec survived, she said. That’s what they did.
Attorney Raul Garcia, who represents Volenec, described the hospital’s treatment of his client far differently. Nurses didn’t drain the wounds properly, he said. Despite numerous requests that she be seen by a plastic surgeon, none was called and no effort was made to transfer her to another hospital where one was available.
As a result, the skin surrounding the incisions died, he said, displaying a series of photos that showed large areas of black skin that eventually had to be cut away from Volenec’s body. Volenec spent three weeks in Bethesda Hospital before being transferred to Palmetto General Hospital in Hialeah where she spent three months, getting the reconstructive surgery she needed.
Volenec never lived in Palm Beach County. She came to South Florida when her husband, Randolph, was hired as an architect on the Adrienne Arsht Center, a performing arts hall in Miami, Garcia said.
The jurors won’t be told of all that has happened to Schreiber since he operated on Volenec, Garcia said. They will be told that Schreiber lost his license to practice medicine in August 2006, after a patient died after a nine-hour surgery he performed in his office. After that death, rules were changed prohibiting such massive surgeries to be performed at outpatient clinics.
But the jury won’t be told that Schreiber was released from prison in 2010 after serving a two-year sentence on charges of engaging in the unlicensed practice of medicine. They also won’t be told the 60-year-old is now being held in the Broward County jail on drug charges and is also charged in Miami-Dade County for continuing to perform plastic surgery without a license.