When Debi Koolick needed corrective surgery on her breasts, she chose Dr. William Leighton, who’s been featured 15 times in Phoenix Magazine’s annual Top Doctors roundup. Physicians are selected for the issue based on peer voting.
Dr. Leighton is the plastic surgeon behind the Leighton Institute for Aesthetic and Reconstructive Plastic Surgery. Leighton has specialized in burn reconstruction, breast reconstruction and aesthetic plastic surgery since the 1980s. He’s recognized for his work with burn victims and performing life-changing surgeries on children from Third World countries. To some, he’s a hero.
Koolick had corrective surgery by another doctor more than a decade ago for a deformity called a tubular breast. Part of the surgery requires implants and a lift. Fourteen years later, her implants had moved laterally and dropped, requiring another lift and new implants for a more-natural appearance.
According to medical records, Dr. Leighton performed the procedure in 2012.
Right after that surgery, Koolick received a text message from Dr. Leighton, which she shared with us. It read: “They will be awesome, patience and no worries. You’ve been dusted by the Boob Fairy.”
According to Koolick’s medical chart, which she provided for this report, the surgery was a success. Dr. Leighton documented over and over again that everything was “spectacular,” looked “fabulous,” and was “great.”
In fact, those words were used 16 times during her 22 post-operative visits with Leighton, though he also frequently documented the presence of necrosis, which is cell death.
Shortly after the surgery, the sutures came undone, records show, requiring the wound to be closed again. “There was puss coming out and my whole breast, left breast, came apart basically,” said Koolick.
Koolick sought out a specific wound-care specialist, but in a series of text messages she shared with us, Dr. Leighton was adamant she not go to this other doctor. Leighton sent Koolick one such message, which read, “Good no more despiration [sic] behavior please. Did you see April Phoenix Magazine?” That’s the publication in which Leighton’s been featured 15 times.
Koolick says she was in constant pain when, less than a month after the surgery, the sutures burst for the second time, leaving a hole the size of her fist in her left breast. Dr. Leighton stitched her up again.
She says she had to pack it with gauze at least five times a day, lying on the bed in fear she would pass out due to the pain. Koolick says she had concerns because her nipple had begun to turn black after the surgery.
And her concerns were validated by Dr. Leighton, who documented necrosis several times during post-operation follow-up visits. Koolick’s nipple and some tissue had died after the operation.
Later, records show Leighton paid to have a nipple tattooed on Koolick’s breast.
“It was very devastating for me and it didn’t just affect me, but it affected my whole family,” Koolick said.
In November, 2013 Koolick filed a formal complaint against Leighton with the Arizona Medical Board, which licenses and regulates physicians, alleging she is permanently disfigured.
Koolick’s isn’t the only case in which a complaint has been filed.
“I feel like I had a mastectomy,” said Amy Ashcroft. “I know exactly how those women feel now. And it’s devastating.”
Ashcroft went to Leighton for corrective breast surgery after an earlier procedure by another surgeon failed to correct a deformity. She says something went wrong with the procedure Leighton performed.
“Leighton did the measurements and discovered that he had messed up, that I am missing an inch and a half of my lower breast,” Ashcroft told us. “It’s gone.”
During a follow-up visit, Ashcroft demanded a refund. She can be heard asking for her money back on a recording the doctor’s office made.
That recording was played back for a judge after Ashcroft’s dispute with Leighton ended up in the Maricopa County Justice Court.
The dispute escalated when Ashcroft removed her shirt in the waiting room — to show Dr. Leighton the damage he did, she says — and refused to put her shirt back on. She says Leighton told her to get a lawyer, to which the doctor admitted in court.
The audio recording reveals one profane word.
A statement from his lawyer reads:
“Doctor Leighton denies all accusations and looks forward to presenting appropriate evidence at a Board hearing in order to clear his name. Regrettably, not all patients are satisfied with their appearance or the results of their surgeries and feel the need to level sensationalistic accusations before the Board of Medical Examiners, and in some cases, to include the media.”