The women say they were excited by the half-off deals and for the self-esteem boost these SmartLipo procedures were going to give them. Instead, they say all they got for their money was pain and suffering.
Fresno mom Melissa Reece misses her smile.
"I can't smile like I used to," Melissa said. "When I smile, it's crooked and basically my chin doesn't drop down."
Ever since a December 2010 SmartLipo procedure under her chin and in her neck, by Dr. Virender Kaleka at Simran Medical Spa, Melissa says she's been plagued by sharp, shooting pain and numbness in her neck and face. A neurologist diagnosed her with permanent nerve damage.
"This has turned into an absolute complete nightmare for me," Melissa said. "I would spend ten times the amount of money I spent to have it done. Just to have my old neck back. I really would."
Bargain prices convinced another Fresno woman, who asked not to be identified, to get SmartLipo done on her stomach and thighs by Dr. Kaleka at Simran in November 2010.
"It was a startup spa, everything was half off. That in and of itself was very tempting."
The damage included a full thickness burn, puckering and numerous depressions from too much fat removed.
"He said I've made two mistakes this year, and you're one of them, I'll pay for it."
Dr. Kaleka agreed to pay Dr. Javad Tavassoli at Athenix Body Sculpting Institute to fix his patient. She required two surgical revisions costing over $10 thousand, including fat transfers and a reverse tummy tuck.
"I refer to that as a salvage procedure. It's not optimal to do that procedure," Dr. Javad Tavassoli said. "And for her, it definitely was. It was pretty much the only alternative she had."
Dr. Tavassoli says complications are a risk of any cosmetic surgery. But after seeing four of Dr. Kaleka's former patients, he grew concerned.
"Multiple times from the same physician. With the same things," Dr. Tavassoli said. "That demonstrated to me somebody was not appropriately trained to be doing what they're doing."
Dr. Kaleka never paid like he promised. So the patient sued Kaleka for breach of contract and won a judgment in her favor this past May. But she says collecting the money has been a struggle.
We contacted Dr. Kaleka for an interview. He initially agreed. But when we arrived at Simran Medical Spa. He refused to answer questions on camera and asked us to leave.
Simran's fictitious name permit with the California Medical Board is delinquent after expiring in July which means no practice is permitted. Action News also looked up Dr. Kaleka's license with the medical board. He is not board certified in plastic surgery. His primary practice is listed as general practice and under secondary practice: psychiatry.
Dr. Tavassoli tells us, there is no regulation or oversight over who can perform SmartLipo.
"So a lot of them get convinced they can do this within a weekend course so they buy the machine and go out and start to practice," Dr. Tavassoli said. "To me that's inadequate."
Something these women want changed.
Melissa said, "If I could have my wish, the laws would change, so people would not continue to be victimized."
Dr. Kaleka's attorney, Russell Ryan, provided Action News with this statement:
"Dr. Kaleka, is an experienced board-certified physician who provides the highest quality health care throughout the San Joaquin Valley and has done so for more than 25 years. He is also fully certified and trained to use, and has used, the smart lipo machine satisfactorily performing smart lipo treatment on hundreds of patients with incredible results. The vast majority of patients who have received smart lipo treatment from Dr.Kaleka have been happy and completely satisfied with the results.
While no medical procedure, including smart lipo, is without risks, the cases presented on tonight's news are not as represented by the individuals. When concerns were raised by these individuals, Dr. Kaleka worked with each to resolve any lingering issues, and the individuals long ago indicated that the issues had been resolved. It is surprising to Dr. Kaleka that issues previously resolved, some years ago, are now being brought up again. Nevertheless, Dr. Kaleka has and will continue to work with his patients to provide the very best health care possible."