Weight loss doctor claims he's extortion victim

Posted at 7:30 PM, Jan 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-19 10:55:42-05

They are the voices of desperation.

"Why?  Why wasn't this detected in Mexico? Why do I have to now deal with it at home,” Central Florida resident Kaycha Baez told the Contact 5 Investigators back in July 2015 about her daily routine that consisted of IV's.

“It was a near death experience for many months,” described Steven Kaiser of Chicago of his own post-surgery experience.

Kaycha and Steven are among nearly 20 patients from around the country who told the Contact 5 Investigators how Mexican weight-loss surgeon Dr. Mario Almanza reduced them to a life of pain.

“It's been a month and I still have a hole in my stomach,” described Kaycha last summer.

Sherri Sullivan of Montana told us how her weight-loss surgery with Dr. Almanza left her with, among other things, a chunk of her liver missing.  

Six months after these patients first shared their stories, Dr. Mario Almanza, who describes himself as the leading gastric sleeve surgeon in the world, is speaking about the criticism.

“I used to have a good reputation,” he said during an interview with our sister station KGTV in San Diego.

When asked if he believed all the patients who reported problems to the Contact 5 Investigator were making up their stories, he responded, “I’m sure.”

Dr. Almanza points to his former patient liaison as the troublemaker.

Last summer, Melissa Henson spoke out claiming Dr. Almanza, who performs all of his surgeries in Tijuana, is driven by profits not patient care.

"When you have 18 surgeries and 12 beds, nothing is getting sterilized," she told the Contact 5 Investigators back in July.

Almanza disputes Henson's claims, telling us he limits gastric sleeve surgeries to 4 or 5 per day.

But it’s what else he's now saying that really stands out.

“Melissa is about money,” he says.  He goes on to accuse Henson of paying more than a dozen former patients, like Kaycha, $500 each to talk badly about him to the media.

"That's not even enough to cover the expenses of using the toilet paper at the hospital," Baez said in response to Dr. Almanza’s latest claims.

"No amount of money would I have accepted for what I went through," she said.  While Baez has recovered from the hole in her stomach she blames Dr. Almanza for, she’s still paying the price for the toll it took on her.

"To this day, I'm still recovering from not being at work for two months,” she said.

Former patient Sherri Sullivan is also outraged at Almanza's allegations.  "That's as bogus as the day is long.  Why in the world would we pick him for a whole $500.  It makes no sense."

Sullivan also says she never spoke to Melissa Henson and never met her.

We caught up with Melissa Henson on face time.

"it's a false story.  He's trying to avoid or take the focus off of all the complaints against him," she said.  “The people who died, they didn’t take their own life for $500,” she said.  

The Contact 5 Investigators confirmed at least four patients died after undergoing weight-loss surgery with Dr. Almanza.

Shortly after patients went on the record with the Contact 5 Investigators complaining about Dr. Almanza, the Mexican government started investigating him.  Dr. Almanza says that investigation is over since several patients never showed up to the hearings.  The Contact 5 Investigators have not been able to confirm any of these claims.

Diana Thomas of New Mexico was one of those patients who flew back to Tijuana to file a formal complaint about the surgeon.  She says the Mexican medical arbitration office which took her complaint never followed up and never contacted her about any hearings.

“I have not heard anything from then since my original visit.  Dr. Almanza harmed me medically, he knew he had harmed me, and sent me away without telling me.  I am sickened by his accusations and his lies.”  Thomas denies being paid to tell the media about the problems she had after her June 2-14 surgery with Dr. Almanza.  Almanza, she says, also left her with a hole in her stomach.  At one point, US doctors told her family to say their final goodbyes to her.

“This has nothing to do with money on my part.  This has everything to do with getting his [Dr. Almanza’s] medical license revoked so that he can no longer harm or kill another person,” she said.

Dr. Almanza stands by his story accusing Henson of extortion.  He filed a lawsuit against her. 

But his former patients, who say they have the bills, the meds and the scars to prove the damage are also standing by their stories.

"It has not been a fun ride, not one I would accept any cash offer for," said Kaycha Baez., the South Florida based company which sends U.S. patients to Dr. Almanza in Mexico is still sending patients to him.

Owner Jarred Cohen said, “the feedback from patients that my office most recently received is consistent with the feedback that we've historically received; i.e., that Dr. Almanza's services have been rated overwhelmingly positively by our customers.”