Plastic surgeon Eric Swanson's bankruptcy stalls his malpractice lawsuits.

The High Cost of Perfection 

Plastic surgeon Eric Swanson's bankruptcy stalls his malpractice lawsuits.

Colleen Mundstock had worked at U.S. Air for only six years, but new crew members assumed she'd been around forever. At 38, she always seemed to be the oldest stewardess on board. "You the senior flight attendant?" pilots asked as soon as they stepped onto the plane.

Mundstock knew that plenty of her fellow flight attendants had been touched up with cosmetic surgery. She had read women's magazines that extolled the benefits and safety of modern procedures. Eventually, Mundstock began to consider surgically altering what she says were "thunder thighs." After all, she and her husband, an Army officer at Fort Leavenworth, had a little extra money now that she was working full-time.

One day as she flipped through The Kansas City Star, a health-section advertisement called "Health Talk" caught her eye. In question-and-answer format, a local plastic surgeon answered letters about liposuction.

Mundstock kept in shape by jogging five miles a day, but she had never liked her thighs. Her 5-foot-4-inch, pear-shaped body had always had a tendency to gain weight. Mundstock wondered if liposuction could even her out. She clipped the column and put it in her dresser drawer, pulling it out every few days to read again. After a couple of months, she made an appointment with Dr. Eric Swanson, a plastic surgeon who owned the advertised clinic.

"I thought any doctor that wrote for that column must be pretty good," Mundstock says now. "It said 'Ask the Experts.'" She decided to let him take a few years off of her face, as well as fat from her thighs.

Ten months later, on Halloween 1995, Mundstock would no longer consider Swanson much of an expert. When she swung open the front door to drop candy into the bags of costumed children, Mundstock was the scary one.

"Ooooh, cool face, lady!" one boy exclaimed.

"After they left, I just set the bowl outside on the porch with a note," Mundstock recalls.

Swanson is a cosmetic surgeon practicing in Leawood. He has spent the last six years battling malpractice lawsuits, bankruptcy court and the Kansas and Missouri medical boards.

This past March, Swanson asked the Kansas Board of Healing Arts to lift the restrictions it had placed on his medical license three years ago. That board denied Swanson's request. The Missouri Board of Healing Arts had disciplined the doctor in January, warning that if he ever opened an office in Missouri again, his license would immediately be subject to one year's probation. Swanson appealed that ruling.

Mundstock's case is among many the two medical boards have considered.

When she first went to Swanson's College Boulevard office in January 1995, Mundstock says, "The waiting room was packed, so I thought he must be good." She chatted with Cindy Swanson, the doctor's wife, who worked at both of Swanson's offices. Cindy Swanson reassured Mundstock that Eric Swanson was a great doctor. He'd even done procedures on her own breasts, Cindy told her.

Mundstock says the young, softspoken doctor seemed sure of himself and his surgical skills. They discussed liposuction. Then Mundstock asked him about a TCA chemical peel -- a trichloroacetic acid solution that could minimize fine wrinkles around her mouth -- which she'd read about in a brochure in the waiting room.

Swanson told her he could do the chemical peel and the liposuction in the same appointment for around $4,000. Mundstock would likely be back to work within two weeks.

After the chemical treatment, Mundstock's facial skin was supposed to crust and peel off within a week to ten days. After that, she expected, she would have beautiful, glowing skin. The change would be so subtle that people would notice she looked good, though they wouldn't know quite why.

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