HARTFORD—— As state health officials tell it, Dr. Efraim Gomez-Zapata is a family physician who dabbled in plastic surgery and put his patients at risk. One woman who went to him for an abdominal liposuction had a seizure on his operating table. Another, in his office for liposuction, went into respiratory arrest after Gomez-Zapata injected anesthesia into her spine, state records say.
On Friday, Gomez-Zapata offered his side of the story. In a hearing before members of the state medical board, Gomez-Zapata, who runs a Stamford family practice, testified that he had been trained in plastic surgery in foreign courses, had experience administering anesthesia from his residency and performed aesthetic surgery on patients with good results.
The woman in respiratory arrest? She probably had an allergy to the anesthesia she didn't know about, Gomez-Zapata said.
But he also conceded that he might have injected the anesthesia into the wrong part of her spine, something a plastic surgeon consulting for the state believes explained the respiratory arrest. "Only God knows," Gomez-Zapata said Friday.
For now, Gomez-Zapata cannot practice medicine. The medical board suspended his license in May after state health officials alleged he tried to skirt a state order to stop performing certain types of surgery and violated medical standards in four surgical procedures.
The suspension came on top of the earlier charges, which stemmed from his care for four other patients. State regulators accused him of performing plastic surgery and administering anesthesia without the proper licensing or qualifications and failing to have the proper setup to handle complications during surgery.
One patient whose case was cited testified on the doctor's behalf. State records say Gomez-Zapata gave Hilda Tavarez liposuction under local anesthesia, which state regulators say fell below medical standards.
But Tavarez and Gomez-Zapata said it wasn't liposuction: She went to Gomez-Zapata to lift her breasts and remove a "biogel" substance that a previous doctor had implanted in her lips and buttocks for aesthetic reasons.
Gomez-Zapata has said it was appropriate to perform the procedure with local anesthesia and did not violate a previous order restricting what surgical procedures he could perform.
Was Tavarez satisfied with Gomez-Zapata's work, his attorney, John J. Evans, asked.
"Yes, thank God, yes," she said through a translator.
Dr. David Goldenberg, a member of the medical board, asked Tavarez if Gomez-Zapata told her he was a plastic surgeon.
"If he didn't tell me he was a surgeon, obviously I wouldn't have done the procedure," she said.