September 26, 2011 | 4:57pm
Los Angeles Times reporters have been staying on top of Lap-Band clinic practices like that maple bacon donut stays on top of your would-be waistline.
The Lap-Band, of course, is Allergan's surgically-implanted weight-loss device obnoxiously promoted by 1-800-GET-THIN billboards and radio jingles that have attacked Southern California. (A friend's cousin from Korea recently visited the States, and her first question was, "What is a Lap-Band?")
While the procedure is advertised as safe and FDA-approved, five patients have died shortly after Lap-Band surgeries since 2009, the Times
reports. The latest is 55-year-old Paula Rojeski of Ladera Ranch
, who was rushed from Valley Surgical Center in West Hills to a nearby hospital, where she was pronounced dead on Sept. 8.
Rojeski is the second patient to die after the procedure at that location. Three others died after surgeries at a Beverly Hills clinic, which has used multiple names.
The deaths have have prompted a series of lawsuits against brothers Julian and Michael Omidi, the men behind 1-800-GET-THIN and its affiliated surgery centers. 1-800-GET-THIN is a marketing company that directs people to clinics offering the Lap-Band procedure, and is not funded by the Irvine-based device-maker.
The Omidi brothers, in turn, have filed a series of lawsuits against the LA Times over its coverage of the deaths. Three of those lawsuits have been dismissed by judges, according to the paper.
Today, the company fired at the Times'
latest Lap-Band death story with a press release
. It extends condolences to Rojeski's family and friends, and then attempts to clear up "misconceptions." The Times
, it says, is "unfairly targeting a procedure that is presently saving and improving hundreds of thousands of lives."
It adds that the procedure "is often the last hope for many patients suffering from significant disease that have been unable to lose weight with diet and exercise."
The 5-foot-5 Rojeski wasn't significantly overweight. A friend, Marni Rader, guessed she weighed about 180 pounds, telling the newspaper, "I don't understand why it would be worth the risk for 20 or 30 pounds."