What price beauty

July 1, 2007

S

Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. - Eric Kaplan, D.C., thought he was receiving Botox (Allergan Medical) injections - just something to soften the harsh edge of the years.

But Dr. Kaplan, a motivational speaker, author and business consultant, soon found himself living a nightmare - locked inside a body paralyzed by botulism after he was injected with a massive dose of research-grade botulinum toxin in November 2004.

Unable to move, speak or even open his eyes, Dr. Kaplan says he was forced to turn inward to survive - and he says he underwent spiritual experiences that changed his thinking about life, death and vanity, ultimately making him a better person.

Dr. Kaplan recounts his experiences in his book "Dying to Be Young," published in 2007 by Nightingale Press. And he now uses what he learned to teach others.

"With cosmetic procedures in general, people never thought there was a risk," he says. "But any time we take a pill or injection, we put ourselves at risk."

Bogus Botox

The "bogus Botox" case drew nationwide media attention.

In November 2004, Dr. Kaplan received four facial injections of what he mistakenly believed to be Botox (botulinum toxin A), administered by Bach McComb, an osteopath whose license had been suspended by the state of Florida. That fact was not listed on the state's Web site, Dr. Kaplan says, and was unbeknownst to him.

Dr. McComb also injected Dr. Kaplan's wife, Bonnie, as well as himself and his then-girlfriend, Alma Hall. Within days, all four were hospitalized in deteriorating condition, and subsequently were paralyzed.

Dr. Kaplan and his wife suffered botulism poisoning that lasted nearly a year, and they continue to deal with physical effects nearly three years later.

"Dying to be Young" recounts Dr. Kaplan's experiences as he lay in a Florida hospital unable to move, speak, open his eyes or even breathe without the aid of a ventilator. He says he was visited by three "angels" - his mother, his father and an uncle, all deceased - who imparted many life lessons to him.

While he says he had excellent medical care, he also recalls being treated as though he were less than a person, because he was unable to react to the stimulus of being stuck with a pin.

"HELLO! I'm a person, not a piece of meat!" he writes.

As doctors, he says, "We expect that when we go to a doctor, we're going to get better care" than others, because physicians want to prove themselves to peers.

"As a doctor, one always thinks that these things happen to other people," Dr. Kaplan says. But his experience taught him that "One day, whether they like it or not, every doctor will be a patient" - and he advises doctors to treat patients as they would like to be treated themselves.

Praise for physicians

Dr. Kaplan says his ordeal has hardly soured him on the medical profession.

"It was doctors who saved my life," he says, especially Dennis Egitto, M.D., his internist at Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center, and Brock Bowman, M.D., a physiatrist at Shepherd Center, an Atlanta catastrophic care hospital.

"I'm grateful to Dr. Egitto for having the courage and making the quick decision to put us on a ventilator, recognizing what inherently could have happened" while physicians struggled to decode the mysterious ailment, he says. "Modern medicine kept me alive."

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, each of the four who were injected received enough toxin to kill 2,800 people (JAMA. 2006 Nov 22;296:2476-2479). Dr. Kaplan says he is indebted to the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for acting quickly and competently in confirming botulism poisoning and providing an antitoxin.

He likewise lauds Dr. Bowman as well as the Shepherd Center, which "sets the paradigm for patient treatment that should be emulated by hospitals throughout the world," he adds.

In fact, Dr. Kaplan says his physicians' example inspired his two sons to study medicine.