They just wanted to look a little trimmer in the tummy and lose a little weight, but 2 patients lost their lives instead during their liposuction procedures. Dr. Peter Normann was an internist, an emergency room doctor, and not a plastic surgeon, yet he performed liposuction surgeries on unsuspecting patients at his clinic in Anthem, Arizona. Dr. Normann never entered a residency in plastic surgery or anesthesiology; he did have about 6 days of training in liposuction and breast augmentation, but he certainly wasn’t qualified to perform such operations. What’s more, he had no training in fat augmentation, yet he performed a buttocks enhancement plastic surgery on at least 1 patient, who died as a result of gross medical incompetence that led to a critical surgical error. It gets worse. During his murder trial, it was discovered that Dr. Normann did not operate with anesthesiologists or nurses, but instead relied on a massage therapist as his medical assistant! It was also revealed that the operating room at his clinic lacked proper oxygen and monitoring equipment.
In 2008, Dr. Normann was arrested, charged, and brought to trial on 3 murder charges. Prosecutors determined 2 of the deaths warranted 2nd-degree murder charges because of the doctor’s “extreme indifference to human life,” and the 3rd death constituted manslaughter due to the doctor’s “conscious disregard of substantial and unjustified risk of death.” They also argued that all 3 victims were improperly intubated during resuscitation efforts, which made it impossible to save them.
Dr. Peter Normann was found guilty on all charges: 2nd-degree murder in the deaths of Ralph Gonzalez, 33, of Scottsdale, Arizona, and Leslie Ann Ray, 53, of California, and manslaughter in the death of Alicia Santizo Blanco, 41, of Gilbert, Arizona. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Obviously, the doctor did not agree with the verdict. He maintained that his patients’ deaths were accidental, claiming that all plastic surgery has inherent risks, including the risk of death, which patients should be aware of before consenting to surgery. Although autopsy results listed the deaths as accidental, prosecutors successfully argued that the “combination of incompetence and arrogance in trying to cover up his incompetence led to their deaths.”
His friends and family stood by Normann after the verdict, admitting that they were surprised he was found guilty. One friend told reporters: “He is not the monster he’s been painted to be.” Another friend said: “He’s a pure, sweet man.” However, friends and family of the victims disagreed. An example: “He has no heart. He just doesn’t feel anything for anybody else but himself. That’s selfish.” A board-certified plastic surgeon weighed in: “This is a sociopath…total disregard for human life. I think he should go away for 20 to 30 years.” And the judge had his own take on Normann: “When you look at all the things that happened here, sir, I do find that you did harm and you violated your oath.” The judge further admonished the doctor: “I would be shocked if any of the victims in this case knew you had a massage therapist as a medical assistant. I can’t imagine anything more reckless than that.”
Let’s look at the timeline of these tragedies.
2006: Conflict With a Paramedic
During a liposuction procedure, 33-year-old Ralph Gonzalez developed serious problems with his breathing, and paramedics had to be called in to rush him to a nearby hospital. Upon arrival, a paramedic noticed the patient’s stomach was swollen and that a breathing tube had been mistakenly inserted into Gonzalez’s esophagus instead of his trachea, inhibiting the flow of oxygen to his lungs because the oxygen was being pumped into his stomach. To make matters worse, Dr. Normann became belligerent when the paramedic pointed out the error and he refused to let the EMT remove the tube and insert it correctly. The insanity continued as the doctor insisted on riding in the back of the ambulance, all the while clutching the breathing tube so the paramedic couldn’t remove it. A scuffle ensued en route to the hospital before the paramedic duped Normann into letting go of the tube. The paramedic pulled out the tube and Normann wanted to insert another tube, but to no avail. The paramedic filed an official complaint against Normann to the Arizona Medical Board as well as with the hospital, detailing the doctor’s actions. Ralph Gonzalez eventually succumbed to what was later determined (at trial) to be a result of an overdose of anesthesia administered by Dr. Normann.
2007: Another Patient Dies
The following year, 41-year-old Alicia Santizo Blanco died from a surgical error at the hands of Normann. She was having Normann perform a buttocks enhancement, a cosmetic surgical procedure that involved injections of fat into her buttocks, and then massaging the fat to sculpt a fuller, rounder, shapelier derriere. During the fat augmentation procedure, Normann erroneously injected fatty tissue directly into a vein, which carried the fat to Alicia’s lungs, killing her. In his attempts to resuscitate Alicia, Normann was once again unable to properly insert a breathing tube into her trachea. Coincidently, the same paramedic arrived on the scene to transport Alicia to the hospital; he immediately filed a second similar complaint against the doctor to the hospital and medical authorities, citing his gross medical incompetence.
The 2nd complaint against Normann issued from the same health care professional in as many years put Normann and his plastic surgery clinic under scrutiny. Normann reacted to the pressure by voluntarily suspending his medical license.
2007: The Final Straw
Later that year and still in business, Normann thought he’d work his way around the law, and keep his practice profitable by hiring a homeopathic physician to perform liposuction procedures in his clinic. His 3rd victim was 53-year-old Leslie Ann Ray, who traveled from her home in California to Normann’s Arizona clinic to undergo liposuction surgery. The homeopath, who was not qualified or licensed to perform such plastic surgery procedures, performed the cosmetic surgery without an assistant; he served as anesthesiologist, surgeon, and monitor. After the surgery was complete, the homeopath left the clinic, leaving Leslie in the recovery room. Later that night, Normann was making the rounds at his clinic and discovered Leslie in respiratory distress. It was revealed in court that in this case as well, Normann was unable to properly insert a breathing tube into his patient’s trachea. The patient died; her cause of death was an overdose of a combination of anesthetic drugs.
Shortly after Leslie’s death, the 3rd patient to die under his care, Dr. Normann was nowhere to be found. He was arrested in 2008 at an airport in Ohio as he was returning to the States from Germany, where authorities believed he was hiding out to avoid the law.
The massage therapist who assisted Normann in the Gonzalez surgery pleaded guilty to 8 counts of unlawful practice of medicine and was sentenced to 5 years in prison. The homeopath who performed the buttocks enhancement, which resulted in the patient’s death, was charged with manslaughter, but he copped a plea bargain to the lesser felony charge of endangerment.
Following the trial of Dr. Normann, many former patients spoke out about botched plastic surgery procedures that they endured due to the doctor’s dangerous incompetence; some called him a “deceiver” and a “great liar.” However, they also noted that they felt lucky to be alive.
- Harrington K. Liposuction doctor sentenced to 25 years. AZ Family website. Updated September 20, 2011. http://www.azfamily.com/news/Liposuction-doctor-sentenced-to-25-years-130211133.html.
- Hoffman S. Former Normann patients share horror stories. AZ Family website. Updated September 14, 2011. http://www.azfamily.com/news/3TV-Exclusive-Former-Normann-Patients-Share-Horror-Stories-129804958.html.
- Kiefer M. Liposuction deaths: Phoenix area doctor convicted of murder, manslaughter. 12 News website. July 15, 2011. http://www.azcentral.com/12news/news/articles/2011/07/15/20110715phoenix-area-doctor-guilty-liposuction-deaths-brk15-ON.html.
- Vela H. Anthem doctor, Peter Normann, sentenced to 25 years in prison after 3 patients die at clinic. ABC 15 website. September 20, 2011. http://www.abc15.com/news/region-northeast-valley/anthem/anthem-doctor-to-be-sentenced-today.