Another Lap-Band Center Warned for Misleading Ads

Purportedly misleading ads have caused the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to issue  another warning to a Lap-Band surgery center. The controversial device is a silicone ring implanted around the stomach to curb an obese person’s appetite. Manufactured by Allergan Inc., the device is designed to promote rapid weight loss, but has been linked to a growing number of unexpected complications and side effects blamed on the device and the surgeons’ implanting the Lap-Band.

The FDA issued a warning letter to Lap-Band VIP owners, advising them to either change their billboard and television ads or face disciplinary action, said the LA Times. The allegations are fairly similar to those made by the FDA against 1-800-GET-THIN this past December.

In the case of Lap-Band VIP, based in Tarzana, California, the firm touted its results on television, the Internet, and highway billboards. In its June 25 letter, the FDA said the ads were misleading and omitted warnings about the risks associated with Lap-Band surgery and warned Lap-Band VIP to “take prompt action to correct the violations” or risk “regulatory action.” Dr. Shahram Salimitari, Lap-Band VIP co-owner, told the LA Times that it was taking the billboards down. Lap-Band VIP says is not connected with 1-800-GET-THIN, which removed most of its marketing this year following regulator probes and an agency warning. Salimitari told the LA Times he performed Lap-Band surgeries at a clinic affiliated with 1-800-GET-THIN; he left and formed Lap-Band VIP with Dr. Hooman Shabatian.

Lap-Band VIP is quick to point out that it has a better record than 1.800-GET-THIN, which is connected with five deaths at its affiliated clinics, said the LA Times. “There have been no deaths associated with LapBandVIP.com,” Shayla Reed, the firm’s general manager, told the LA Times. “LapBandVIP.com’s complication rate is less than the national average, as published in recognized medical journals.” In fact, the Lap-Band VIP web site says it offers “better care, better results” and uses a team of “highly trained physicians.”

Speaking of its “highly trained physicians,” Sheila Mattia, a Lap-Band VIP patient alleged in a lawsuit that, during her 2010 surgery, a Lap-Band VIP anesthesiologist cut her esophagus while placing a breathing tube into her throat, causing her “to be hospitalized for months,” according to court documents. Defendants deny wrongdoing.

Interestingly, Salimitari is described on the Lap-Band VIP web site as a specialist in “gastric banding procedures”; however, his profile does not mention his arrest by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies in 2008. Charges involved threatening to kill both a sheriff’s deputy and a flower shop owner over a parking issue; the shop owner’s restraining order is still in effect. The deputy sheriff told the LA Times he needed to use pepper spray to control the surgeon and had to be helped by another deputy to handcuff the 220-pound man.

Last year, Salimitari was sued by former employee, Criswell Abel, who accused him of “continuous unwelcome sexual harassment” and that Salimitari touched her inappropriately and told her to show him her breasts in exchange for a promotion. Settled out of court, the lawsuit states that Abel refused and did not get the promotion. Salimitari claims that Abel’s allegations were “absolutely not true,” wrote the LA Times.

Meanwhile, Dr. David Nazarian’ profile states his medical degree was received from “Sackler School of Medicine/NYU.” The Sackler School of Medicine is based in Tel Aviv, noted the LA Times and, while the school does have a branch in New York, it is in no way affiliated with New York University, according to officials with both universities.

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