Breast cancer survivor fights Cleveland Clinic over surgery results (graphic)

Kim and her two children while she was undergoing treatment. (Source: Ilene Marshall Photography)
Kim and her two children while she was undergoing treatment. (Source: Ilene Marshall Photography)
Kim's results after the double mastectomy. (Source: Kim Bowles)
Kim's results after the double mastectomy. (Source: Kim Bowles)
Post-mastectomy results Kim says she asked the doctor for. (Source: cancer survivor who wishes to remain anonymous)
Post-mastectomy results Kim says she asked the doctor for. (Source: cancer survivor who wishes to remain anonymous)
Kim and her family at home in Pittsburgh. (Source: WOIO)
Kim and her family at home in Pittsburgh. (Source: WOIO)

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - A woman who underwent a double mastectomy at Cleveland Clinic woke up to cosmetic results she says she did not consent to.

We want to warn you, some of the video footage and photos in our story is of a graphic nature.

Kim Bowles just wants her voice to be heard.

She's speaking out, she says, to make sure this doesn't happen to other women.

But the hospital has another side to the story.

Last week, the Pittsburgh woman staged a sit-in at the Cleveland Clinic CEO's office.

She broadcast it live on Facebook.

"It is a non-violent protest," she told the security guard as she took off her shirt in the office.

Kim Bowles, 37, sat there bare-chested, more than a year after a double mastectomy.

"I'm going to be sitting in the CEO's office until the CEO speaks with me and tells me that this is not going to happen to other women," Bowles said to the security guard.

This was on the day of her last appointment at Cleveland Clinic for breast cancer treatment.

Bowles never saw the CEO, just security and police instead.

"So he's telling me now that he's going to arrest me because I'm criminally trespassing," she said in the video.

Kim did not get arrested that day.

She promised her husband she would make it home to their kids, 2-year-old Sammy and 4-year-old Timmy.

Two years ago, breast cancer turned their lives upside down.

Doctors told her the tumor was stage 3.

"I was diagnosed while I was breastfeeding my second baby, she was 10 months old," Bowles said.

After chemo, Kim decided to go to Cleveland Clinic for surgery because of the hospital's reputation as one of the top in the nation.

Before her double mastectomy, she made a big decision. She did not want reconstruction.

"So I brought a plastic surgeon onto the team to make it look nice. To make it look neat and tidy and flat and smooth," Bowles said.

She had two consultations with plastic surgeon Dr. Steven Bernard.

"So I wanted to be flat. He said, 'ok, we'll make you flat,'" she said.

Kim provided us with her official medical files from the consultation.

They say "she is however interested in having a smooth flat result on her chest."

Dr. Bernard goes on to say, "she also acknowledges that at a later date she may wish to undergo reconstruction and knows that this will affect that ultimately."

Kim says she couldn't rule it out 100 percent. But if she did reconstruction, she said it would be years down the road.

On the day of surgery, she was put under anesthesia.

"They wheeled me into the OR, they put the IV in. And as I was lying there, I heard him say, I'll just leave a little extra in case you change your mind,'" Bowles said, talking about Dr. Bernard.

"It was so upsetting at the time and then I conked out. And I woke up, and I was afraid to look under the bandages, and I finally did look, and it was clear that he made no attempt to make me flat at all. There are clear pockets for implants," she said.

After the surgery, Bowles says Dr. Bernard told her to give it a few months to "tighten up."

"He had one job, to make me flat, and he didn't do it, and he did it on purpose. Against my consent. I said no," she said.

Cleveland19 went to Cleveland Clinic for answers.

A spokesperson sent us this statement:

"Taking care of patients is our top priority. In this instance, Ms. Bowles chose to have a double mastectomy after having chemotherapy for her tumor. Per her wishes, she opted not to have further surgical revisions that are common for patients who have had mastectomies. The physicians involved in her care have outstanding reputations and are highly skilled. We conducted three thorough reviews relating to her concerns and shared with her that it was determined every aspect of her care was done optimally to give her the safest amount of extra skin to prevent jeopardizing her arm movement."

Cleveland Clinic says the extra skin was not for possible breast implants, but again to preserve the movement of her arm.

A spokesperson points out the hospital responded to Kim's complaints in April, May and July of 2017.

Dr. Steven Bernard, who performed the surgery, is rated 4.8 out of 5 stars, with over 100 patient reviews on Cleveland Clinic's website.

About half of his patients come to him for breast reconstruction.

"It's important for them to feel, when they're done with all this, they're still going to be whole. They're going to be a whole person," Dr. Bernard says in a video under his biography on the website.

But Kim says she gave the plastic surgeon pictures of what she wanted to look like.

She insists at no point did Dr. Bernard make any mention of leaving extra skin for range of motion.

"Whatever the reason though, I'm a competent adult, I made the decision. I did not consent to what he did to me," Bowles said.

Back at home in Pittsburgh, Kim read us the letter she wrote to the hospital's CEO.

She doesn't know if he ever got it.

"I am truly disturbed that this happened. The reason I came to Cleveland Clinic for my surgery is because I expected to get excellent care," she said.

Kim may be cured of cancer right now, but her fight is not over.

"The scars don't even bother me. The lack of breast doesn't even bother me. Seeing the remnants that I know he left there on purpose, and I had no control and I couldn't protect myself because I was unconscious," she said.

"It's honestly been the most emotionally upsetting thing about the cancer thing because cancer is nobody's fault. That's just a crapshoot. This was totally avoidable," she said.

Kim says she is not looking for money, that she came forward to help other women.

"If this keeps happening to women and I do nothing, that's on my shoulders," she said.

Kim is happy with the doctor who performed her mastectomy.

She says she has to wait a year to undergo surgery with another doctor to fix the results.

We want to point out, Cleveland Clinic now has a different CEO than the one Kim originally wrote her letter to.

What you need to know before surgery

Cleveland19 reached out to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons for advice.

We spoke to Dr. David H. Song, a professor and chairman of the department of plastic surgery at Georgetown University.

He says if a breast cancer patient wants any reconstruction at all, even years in the future, a plastic surgeon will leave excess skin.

But if the patient asks to go flat, a general surgeon can handle that.

Dr. Song recommends you come prepared with questions for your doctor before surgery.

You should meet with your doctor at least twice before then.

He says you should take notes from the surgeon, and bring a family member who can help you remember what's discussed.

Lastly, if you don't feel 100 percent comfortable with your doctor you can ask for a new one.

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