Perfect: A Bad Trip

Tragedy For Some Who Get Surgery In Mexico

In January, 2000, with her daughter's wedding coming up, Angie Paquette, a 47-year-old Tampa housewife and mother of three decided to treat herself to a tummy tuck.

"I was not doing it because I'm a vain person," she tells Correspondent Troy Roberts." It was just to feel good about myself."

With time at a premium, she checked the Tampa phone book and found that Dr. Daniel Callahan offered surgery at a resort in Cancun, Mexico.

A friend had heard good things about Doctor Callahan, and Angie recognized his wife, a former TV anchor. Plus the cost seemed reasonable: $5,900 including airfare and room and board in Cancun.

The next week, Angie and two other patients flew to Mexico on a plane piloted by the doctor himself.

Enrique Torres, who leads a group of investigators at Florida's Department of Health, wishes Angie had done more homework before going to Mexico. If she had checked with the health department, she would have discovered that Dr. Callahan turned in his Florida medical license seven years ago in the face of accusations of sexual misconduct and malpractice. He lost several sexual harassment cases against him over the years, with damages totaling $21 million. None of that money has been recovered by victims.

Instead of giving up medicine, Callahan moved his practice to a villa on an island off Cancun's coast, seemingly beyond the reach of U.S. law. With no office in Florida, he and his wife Barbara meet prospective patients like Angie at a St. Petersburg restaurant.

At the meeting, the couple suggested Angie also get breast implants. The doctor never gave Angie a physical, never even asked her to remove her clothes and never told her about the risks of such major surgery. Nevertheless, Angie was impressed by the professional way he spoke of surgeries "the way a car mechanic talks about engines."

Surgery was performed the day she arrived at the Cancun villa, and she returned home just days later.

"I asked him, 'Well, don't you wanna see me?'" Angie says. "And he says, 'Well, no, you know there's no need for that. Everything should be fine once the stitches come out.'"

But when she arrived home, Angie was in a lot of pain, and began to develop a fever, a symptom of infection. "And then I had this stuff coming out of me," she says. "It started like a bubbling where the stitches were at. It blistered and those blisters popped open. And then the stuff just kept coming out."

Callahan refused to see her and referred her to an internist, who prescribed antibiotics.

But when the fever continued, the doctor told her to go back to Callahan and get the implants removed. So Angie returned to Mexico for her second surgery in less than a month.

Even after the implants were removed, the infection never really went away.

"It was horrible," Angie said. "I had no breast tissue anymore. It was like if somebody had just gone and chopped my breast off. I didn't want to see anybody. I didn't want to leave the house."

Angie was one of the lucky ones. Two months after she had her surgery, Jaime and Penny Wood, who had a successful electronics business in Tampa, flew to Mexico with Callahan.

He had operated on a member of their family before and that relative was pleased with the results.

Jaime went to the third-floor operating room first and came back downstairs. "I was kind of out of it when they took Penny in," he says.

Penny never came back downstairs. She suffered a violent reaction to the anesthesia and was taken to a hospital across the bay in Cancun, and transferred the next day by emergency medical plane to a hospital in Tampa. Doctors there pronounced her dead; the medical examiner called it an accident.

But Jaime Wood thinks otherwise: "He kept telling me that he was equipped to deal with any emergency," he says of Callahan. "He wasn't. He misled us."

In the two years since Penney Wood's death, Callahan has been doing surgeries on patients he recruits in Florida. He now works at a beachfront hotel in a village near Cancun.

In March, at a Florida coffee shop, he met with an undercover 48 Hours producer who scheduled an appointment, saying she was interested in a tummy tuck and liposuction. In a conversation recorded by a hidden camera, he talked about his years of experience and his practice in Mexico. He never asked about the producer's medical history and said a physical exam before surgery was unnecessary.

At the end of the 45-minute meeting, he agreed to perform the plastic surgery for $4,700 in cash. Included in the price was a seat on his plane, and room and board.

Torres says that amounts to practicing medicine without a license – a crime. He has been on Callahan's trail for two years, but needed a complaint to act. Angie Paquette filed that complaint.

In April, Callahan was arrested at a small airport in St Petersburg and charged with practicing medicine without a license. He faces at least two years in prison if convicted. Callahan's lawyer has filed a motion to dismiss the charges.

Torres believes the arrest might cause other Callahan victims to come forward.

Wood hopes he'll get the chance to face Callahan in court and confront him about the death of his wife. "What I'd like to see happen is a full investigation of what happened to my wife down there in Mexico," he said.

Angie Paquette has another idea: "What should happen to him? Want to know what I would like to do with him? I'd be happy if I could operate on him. I don't have a license to operate either."
  • Mary-Jayne McKay

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