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Six of Swanson's lawsuits were settled out of court in 1997 and 1998. Swanson's medical-malpractice insurance company and the Kansas Health Care Stabilization Fund (a state agency funded through premiums from doctors and hospitals for extra coverage) paid more than $2 million to the plaintiffs, according to settlement agreements in the lawsuit files. Among the substantial settlements was $500,000 for Colleen Mundstock.
Swanson's medical career seemed to begin with great promise. By one account, he was almost like the TV character Doogie Howser. Born December 31, 1960, Swan Eric Swanson's late birthdate meant he was always younger than most of his schoolmates. Swanson dropped his delicate first name as a child, opting to go simply by "Eric." Swanson graduated two years early from a high school for gifted children in Toronto. After he'd completed only two years of college, Swanson started medical school at the University of Toronto in 1979.
Swanson received his medical diploma in 1983, was accepted for a one-year internship at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, then completed his residency in plastic surgery at the University of Toronto. He finished a cosmetic-surgery fellowship in Canada before coming to the United States, where he began a six-month fellowship in reconstructive microsurgery at Southern Illinois University.
Swanson left that fellowship after only three months, however. One of his professors had yelled at the young doctor in front of his peers during a troublesome surgery, and Swanson handed in his resignation letter the next day. The caseload had been lower than he had expected, Swanson wrote; he alluded only briefly to the humiliating operating-room incident.
By June, he had accepted a position in Kansas City with Dr. Frederick McCoy, a plastic surgeon with an office near the Country Club Plaza. Court records show that McCoy fired Swanson after two years, citing personality conflicts between Swanson and one of McCoy's associates.
Swanson then shared an office with another plastic surgeon on the Plaza for the next three years. At the same time, he was director of the residency program in plastic surgery at the University of Missouri-Kansas City from 1991 to 1993 and director of the cleft-palate clinic at Children's Mercy Hospital from 1991 to 1995. Apparently, Swanson did well as a reconstructive plastic surgeon.
According to a 1994 article in The Kansas City Star, one of Swanson's patients at Children's Mercy was a boy whose arm had been mangled in a car wreck. The boy's arm had dangled by one thin artery when Swanson operated on him the first of seven times. Two years after the accident, though, the smiling boy tossed the opening pitch at a Royals game while Swanson watched from the stands.
When Swanson heard about a ten-year-old Afghan refugee who had been burned in a Soviet bomb attack, he treated the boy's fused fingers, mutilated arm and scarred face at no charge. He reconstructed a race-car driver's arm after it had been nearly torn off in a crash.
Gradually, though, Swanson moved his practice toward the more lucrative field of cosmetic surgery.
Most cosmetic surgery isn't covered by health insurance, so doctors rather than insurance companies set the fees. The procedures are costly: about $5,000 for a facelift and $3,000 for breast augmentation. Tummy tucks run between $4,000 and $5,000. A new nose costs about $3,000.
In 1994, Swanson opened two offices, one on Clay Edwards Drive, next to North Kansas City Hospital, the other on College Boulevard in Overland Park, where he specialized in cosmetic surgery. Swanson cranked up an aggressive advertising campaign for his burgeoning practice, buying ads in regional issues of Sports Illustrated, Time and Newsweek. In 1994, he began advertising in the Star.