(Photo: Jason Towlen, Asbury Park (N.J.) Press)
ASBURY PARK, N.J. (USA TODAY) -- Gov. Chris Christie has downplayed the risks from his gastric banding surgery at New York University's Langone Weight Management Program, but New York authorities investigated the clinic three years ago after three patients died following bariatric procedures.
New York State Department of Health officials could not be reached Wednesday for results of their probe. Program officials also didn't respond to requests for comment.
One of the patients, Rebecca Quatinetz, 27, died in 2009, a few months after the lap-band surgery, said attorney Harold L. Wexler, who has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against program director Dr. George Fielding. Fielding also is Christie's doctor.
"She had a bright future," said Wexler, a partner at the Herzfeld & Rubin law firm. "We're alleging pre-operative testing revealed a condition that should have been addressed. She had an EKG that read abnormal, and nobody did anything about that."
Christie, at a news conference Tuesday, said he was content with Fielding's work and that he didn't see any need to turn over the power of his office to Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno when he had the surgery Feb. 16.
"No, I was in charge," Christie said. "It's like asking if I decide to take a nap on Saturday afternoon, do I call her and say, 'Hey Kim, I'm taking a nap for 40 minutes, you're in charge.' Ridiculous."
Christie didn't elaborate on how he chose Fielding. His spokesman, Michael Drewniak, said he had nothing to add to the governor's comments.
Fielding also performed the surgery on New York Jets' coach Rex Ryan.
Health care providers who choose to promote the gastric banding procedure are required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to educate patients about the risks involved, which must also be included in any advertising and promotional materials. The FDA says patients considering the surgery should read the patient information provided by their doctor and should ask any questions they have about gastric banding before having surgery.
According to the program website, Fielding "is the world's most experienced bariatric surgeon," and he and his wife, Christine Ren-Fielding, who is a professor of surgery at NYU Medical School, have performed more than 7,600 weight-loss operations.
More than 150,000 people had weight-loss surgeries in 2010, according to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. The society says patients may improve their life expectancy and reduce the risk of premature death.
The procedure is not considered cosmetic and the $10,000 to $20,000 cost is commonly covered by health insurance companies, said Dr. Seun Sowemimo, a bariatric specialist who has performed more than 150 weight-loss surgeries over the past year at CentraState Medical Center in Freehold Township.
With gastric banding, an adjustable silicone band is placed around the upper part of the stomach to reduce the amount of food the stomach can hold. Band adjustments can be done on an outpatient basis to help drive the rate of weight loss.