Sono Bello doctor charged with unprofessional conduct in patient death



Posted on December 15, 2010 at 11:43 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 30 at 9:43 AM

BELLEVUE -- The KING 5 Investigators first uncovered the death of a patient following liposuction at body contour center Sono Bello and brought it to the state's attention over a year ago.
Now the medical commission has charged the doctor who did the procedure with unprofessional conduct and delivering medical care below state standards.    

Aura’s story

Her name was Aura Javellana.  She was a computer software whiz at just 28.

"My perfect word for Aura was she was a firecracker. She would come into any room and light up the room with a bang,” said her friend Marni Casanova.

She was about to be married to her long time boyfriend, Justin Rogers.

"It was going to have basically 4 diamonds because I waited 4 years before I married her,” said Rogers.

But like many brides-to-be Aura wasn't happy with her body. So she went to Sono Bello in Bellevue for liposuction.   

Attorneys Cheryl Gawron and Cydney Webster never met Aura, but they talk about her like they knew her.

"She was in the prime of her life and so vibrant, at the top of the world,” said Webster.

"She was their hope and she was the light of their lives,” said Gawron.

Aura and her family moved to the United States from the Philippines when she was sixteen. She showed it was possible to achieve the American dream.

She got a college degree and earned enough money to send some home to her mother and put her sister through school.

"Aura was the person who called her and encouraged her, paid for her tuition paid for her books,” said Webster.  “She's devastated by the loss of her sister and best friend.”

Aura's former fiancé said they had once talked about surgery to lose weight and decided it was an unacceptable shortcut.

But in the spring of 2009, Sono Bello was waging a marketing blitz. It promoted its new laser assisted liposuction as virtually painless and risk free.

Aura secretly went to Sono Bello to have fat removed from her abs, love handles and upper arms.  The cost was $8,000.  She took a cab to a hotel to recover.  Hours later, she died in her room alone. 
Our investigation

The state health department didn't know about the death until we reported it.  Operating on a tip in August 2009, a few months after Aura's death, we launched a KING 5 investigation.  We obtained police and autopsy reports and Sono Bello's own medical records. 

When we asked Sono Bello for answers that November, the Corporate Medical Director told us the death was not their fault and that strict protocols were followed.

Statement of charges

That's not what state investigators believe.

The Medical Quality Assurance Commission has charged Marco Sobrino, the doctor who did Aura's surgery, with unprofessional conduct for delivering medical treatment below the standard of care in eleven areas.

The commission is alleging that a consultant, not a licensed health care provider, explained and scheduled the procedure. Dr. Sobrino didn't meet Aura until thirty minutes before the surgery. To read the statement of charges click here

According to DOH’s statement of charges, Dr. Sobrino:

  • did not explain the risks
  • failed to perform or failed to document that he performed a physical exam
  • did not monitor the patient for instability

Acute lidocaine intoxication  

We know what killed Aura.  The King County Medical Examiner ruled she died from 'acute lidocaine intoxication'.  Lidocaine is a nerve blocker that was mixed with saline and pumped into Aura's body to suppress pain.  
The state alleges Dr. Sobrino didn't track how much lidocaine solution was used and didn't supervise the medical assistant who mixed it. 
After Aura's death, the state toxicology lab measured the lidocaine levels in her blood.  We had an expert interpret the numbers.  According to Dr. Lisa Sowder, past president of the Washington Society of Plastic Surgeons, the levels of lidocaine were “really, really high..Stratospheric high.”  “You’d never want to see those in a patient,” said Sowder.

When we went to Sono Bello last May to ask Dr. Sobrino about the lidocaine levels, he ran from the reporter.

Sono Bello's attorney told us the clinic uses lidocaine within established guidelines and the toxicology numbers are subject to interpretation.
Because lidocaine peaks in the bloodstream about twelve hours after it's injected into the body's fat, Aura was in the most danger when she was alone at the hotel.

"She was not properly informed of the risks and all of the literature from Sono Bello seems to state that she did not need to be worried, she did not need to be concerned, this was a safe and easy procedure,” said Gawron.

The state says Aura was not warned about the dangers of lidocaine toxicity or the importance of having someone with her for 24 hours.  

Aura vomited and was drowsy after the surgery, but the state says Dr. Sobrino left and Sono Bello staff put Aura in a taxi without an escort and without knowing her destination.       

What’s next

Dr. Sobrino has filed an answer to the state charges and denies the allegations.

If the charges are sustained, the doctor could face anything from a reprimand to the loss of his license.

The Department of Health tells us they have received 28 complaints against eight providers at Sono Bello.

Aura's family is preparing to file suit against Sobrino and Sono Bello alleging medical negligence and violations of the Consumer Protection Act.

"It’s a devastating loss and one that can never be replaced.  Perhaps following through with this complaint will give some closure to the family but it will never take the pain and sorrow of losing Aura away,” said Gawron.