NewsTeam 10 Investigates


Outrage over San Diego surgeon, nurse who can keep practicing despite being charged in patient's death

Posted at 2:26 PM, Feb 03, 2022

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- Outraged family members are speaking out about a local plastic surgeon and nurse who have been charged with involuntary manslaughter but can keep practicing without notifying their patients, for the time being.

“It’s hard because I have to relive it and explain to him…that mommy died and she's not coming back,” Moe Espinoza told ABC 10News.

He’s living his nightmare. He’s now a widower and a single father to two little boys.

“My oldest [boy says], ‘I’m going to build a time machine and I'm going to go back in time to save mom,’ and don't know what else to say, you know, she's not coming back,” he added.

Their mother was 36-year-old Megan Espinoza, a local teacher who went in for a routine breast augmentation at Bonita's Divino Plastic Surgery Center where she never regained consciousness.

David Gorcey is her brother.

“I texted her that day just to say, 'I’m sure that everything will be fine, and I'll talk to you after this,’ and of course [I] never had that chance,” he told ABC 10News.

“This is some of the worst malpractice that I’ve seen,” said Dr. Christian Jagusch, a physician and an attorney.

He’s representing the family members who are suing Dr. Carlos Chacon and his nurse, Heather Lang, in civil court for malpractice. They were criminally charged in December with involuntary manslaughter for their alleged role in Espinoza’s 2018 botched surgery and death.

“On a 10-point scale, it's a 10,” he added.

Even though the surgery was three years ago, nothing about it was available for the public to view on the Medical Board of California’s website until the criminal charges were filed two months ago.

Now, a formal accusation by the Medical Board of California has been published. It has been described as terrifying.

According to the report, Dr. Chacon later admitted that prior to surgery, "…there was no discussion with [the patient] regarding the absence of an anesthesiologist."

The report alleges that the nurse sedated Espinoza, even though she reportedly didn't have adequate training to do so.

About two hours into the procedure, Espinoza went into "cardiac arrest.”

The report reads that an AED, CPR, and various medications were used.

Instead of calling 911, the report states that the doctor "called two anesthesiologists he worked with for advice,” but he allegedly "concealed" from them how life-threatening her situation was. One anesthesiologist reportedly offered to come in and help but Dr. Chacon declined.

The other anesthesiologist spoke to him twice and said to "immediately call 911, and that she needed to be intubated by paramedics,” but according to the report, Dr. Chacon didn't call 911, "…even as [she] started to make gurgling noises and exhibit seizure-like activity."

Medics were finally called "more than three hours after CPR" and later indicated they were in "disbelief" that it took that long to make the call.

“How does it take three hours to get formal [Emergency Medical Services]?” ABC 10News asked.

Jagusch replied, “I don't think we really have an answer for that.”

She was found to be brain-dead at the hospital, where she died five weeks later.

Dr. Chacon and his nurse have pleaded not guilty.

The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office and the Medical Board of California would not comment on why it took three years to file charges and publish an accusation, citing that the case is pending.

In December, the Medical Board of California requested a court order for Dr. Chacon to cease practice pending the outcome of the criminal charges, but the hearing isn't until late March. Until then, he and the nurse can practice with some limitations.

According to the DA’s Office, Chacon’s conditions of release are:

  • He may only perform surgery if anesthesia is administered by a licensed Anesthesiologist, or a licensed CRNA (Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist) who is licensed to administer anesthesia independently without supervision of a physician
  • He may only perform surgery in a licensed, certified out-patient surgery center, or hospital
  • He may not direct unlicensed personnel to administer anesthesia, IV meds, or service IV bags in any manner
  • He must notify the court if he intends to travel outside of the State of California

Lang's conditions of release are:

  • She may only administer anesthesia under direct supervision of a licensed Anesthesiologist or a licensed CRNA
  • She may not direct unlicensed personnel to administer anesthesia, IV meds, or service IV bags in any manner”

ABC 10News asked, “This doctor and this nurse have been criminally charged and they still don't have to tell their patients that they're criminally charged. How is that possible?”

Jagusch replied, “It's the way the laws are set up.”

According to the Medical Board of California, "To create a requirement for a physician charged with a crime to notify their patients would require the Legislature to pass, and the Governor to sign, a new law."

“It really puts people at risk who don't take the time to do their research,” added Gorcey.

“Be more transparent with the public about what is going on,” said Lisa McGiffert with the Patient Safety Action Network. “There's a lot about the medical board information that we, as a public, just don’t have access to.”

Activists like her have been critical of state medical boards, claiming that they often protect doctors more than patients.

“Doctors…and nurses and other licensees have a right to due process. There's no doubt about that but patients also have the right to make informed decisions,” added Jagusch.

A 2019 survey from Federation of State Medical Boards found that less than 3 in 10 Americans said that they know how to find out if a physician has ever received a disciplinary action against their medical license.

Gorcey added, “What we hope is that going forward, there's action that is taken to prevent anyone else from being here and speaking to a journalist about the loss of their loved one.”

ABC 10News asked Dr. Chacon and Lang’s attorneys for interviews. They declined to provide interviews.

Attorney Marc Carlos wrote to ABC 10News, “Dr. Chacon is not available for an interview. He is aggressively defending himself in this criminal case.”

On behalf of Lang, attorney Domenic Lombardo wrote, "Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this tragic situation but we are constrained by ongoing litigation from providing any substantive commentary except while in court."

Visit the following link to research any published disciplinary actions against a California physician:

Visit the following linke to view the Patient Safety Action Network's survey and ranking of state medical and osteopathic board website in 2021: