Surgeon under fire after employee faces charges

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SARASOTA - While a medical office manager fights to avoid prison on charges of practicing medicine without a license, the surgeon at the office might have to fight to keep his license.

Christine Patterson faced a judge for the first time Friday on the charges. She works in her brother's medical office, Sarasota Surgical Arts.

Alberico Sessa, MD, does facial and cosmetic surgery. Patterson does billing and scheduling, but the criminal complaint against her says that having seen a medical procedure done “plenty of times” gave her enough confidence to try it herself.

“These charges simply are not true,” Patterson's attorney Brett McIntosh said after her bond hearing Friday afternoon.  “She doesn't practice medicine. She did not perform this procedure.”

The procedure was a follow-up on a facelift patient. The patient told investigators that shortly after she had her surgery in 2011, she returned to Sessa's office. Sessa was not there, and Patterson unwrapped her bandages, examined her face, and “sent her on her way,” the complaint reads.

The patient returned the next day with facial swelling. She says Patterson inserted a tube by herself to drain fluid from the patient's face.

“The other person working in the office that day said to Ms. Patterson, 'Are you sure you should do a procedure?' says Sarasota County Sheriff's spokesperson Wendy Rose, “basically telling her, this is a medical procedure, and you're an office manager.” That's  when Patterson replied that she had seen it done “plenty of times,” according to the criminal complaint.

Sarasota Surgical Arts was open Friday. A woman who answered the phone told ABC 7 that Sessa had no comment “at this time” and hung up the phone.

He is not the only doctor who hesitates to talk about the case. As sheriff's investigators worked to make a case against Patterson, it took a while to find a doctor willing to talk about a fellow physician's practice. “You would think if someone's obviously allowing wrongdoing in their practice, that someone would want to stand up for their profession,” says Rose.

McIntosh says he believes the effort is unnecessary. But while he claims Patterson's innocence, he must contend with a patient who says Patterson invaded her face with no qualifications to do so. “I haven't met the lady,” McIntosh says. “I don't want to guess, or assume, why she would make the allegation. Possibly it's a mistake.”

The case began with a complaint to the Florida Department of Health, which referred it to the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office. FDOH spokeswoman Ashley Carr, in an emailed response to a call, wrote that she could not comment on the case but added that, “physicians can be disciplined for aiding and abetting the unlicensed practice of medicine.”