A Bakersfield gynecologist who also practices cosmetic surgery is under fire from the Medical Board of California for allegations that his care and treatment of two patients was grossly negligent, that he attempted to fraudulently gain a refund from a manufacturer of breast implants, and that he engaged in and paid for a sexual relationship with one of his patients.
The allegations come four years after the board issued a public letter of reprimand against Dr. Jason Helliwell for “negligence in the treatment of a patient who underwent a SmartLipo procedure.”
As a result of these allegations, the state medical board is seeking to revoke or suspend the license of Helliwell, 43, who maintains an office on Brimhall Road on the city’s west side.
A statement approved by Helliwell’s attorney was read over the phone Monday by a member of the staff at Helliwell’s office.
“We plan to contest the allegations from the medical board,” the statement reads. “We have no further comment.”
According to the public accusation against Helliwell, filed Aug. 4, Helliwell performed breast augmentation surgery in May 2013 on a patient identified in the accusation document only as C.T., a 23-year-old woman.
Within two weeks of the surgery, one of the incisions was oozing. She was prescribed antibiotic and antifungal medications, but a few weeks later returned complaining of discomfort and presenting a wound rupture along the surgical suture.
The wound was closed with a suture, but according to the accusation there was no debridement, the medical removal of dead, damaged, or infected tissue.
“There was no debridement of the skin opening,” the accusation alleges, “merely a single suture to close a contaminated wound that has been exposed.”
Nearly two months after the original procedure, the incision had opened again, but Helliwell was on vacation. The patient was referred to another doctor who was supposedly covering for Helliwell, but C.T. was told he could not see her.
After waiting six more days, C.T. returned to Helliwell’s office. By that time, her left breast implant was exposed. Both implants were removed. Helliwell charged the patient $1,000 for this procedure.
According to the accusation, Helliwell told the patient he could poke a small hole in the implants and claim they were ruptured so she could get a credit for another augmentation. She refused.
The second patient, known in the accusation as S.B., also age 23, underwent breast augmentation surgery in March 2011. She was not satisfied with the results, so a second surgery was performed in January 2013.
S.B. also experienced wound healing issues, and about six weeks after the second surgery, her right breast implant was exposed through the open wound. When Helliwell attempted to replace it, the implant ruptured.
Helliwell “told S.B. he did not have a replacement at his office so he sutured the incision closed and did not place a surgical drain,” the accusation alleges.
S.B.’s symptoms worsened. She developed a high fever, pain and swelling, and was admitted to a local emergency room with sepsis, a serious complication of an infection that can potentially progresses to septic shock, a dramatic drop in blood pressure and even death.
Helliwell’s “attempt at salvage by reclosing the wound showed a fundamental lack of knowledge,” the accusation alleges.
The case also alleges sexual misconduct on the part of Helliwell. According to the document, S.B. first met Helliwell when they arranged a sexual encounter. By coincidence, S.B. had made an appointment for a consultation with Helliwell prior to that first sexual encounter.
Following their encounter, S.B. saw Helliwell for a consultation and later underwent two surgical procedures in 2011 and 2013.
The sexual relationship continued, but with a twist.
“When they had sex, (Helliwell) would pay S.B. for her services in cash,” the accusation document says. “They met in motels, her apartment or his office.”
She was his patient for two years, the allegations continue, and “their sexual relationship continued through most of this period.”
Medical Board spokeswoman Cassandra Hockenson said the next step is to schedule a settlement conference, during which officials with the state attorney general’s office will meet with Helliwell and his attorney to determine whether a settlement can be reached before the case goes before an administrative judge.
“We start with the big guns,” Hockenson said. “Because this is serious.”
Along with the new allegations, the public letter of reprimand against Helliwell in 2011 will also be taken into consideration.
Revocation or suspension of Helliwell’s license to practice medicine is being sought, Hockenson said. However, other outcomes could include placing Helliwell on supervised probation, the cost of which he would have to bear.
It’s not unusual, however, that a settlement is reached that does not require the accused even to admit wrongdoing.