David S. Olabarri
Monday, 4 December 2023, 14:49
The family of a man who died four years ago while undergoing a hair transplant in Bilbao after he was injected with an anaesthetic used for horses have finally spoken out.
It comes as their quest for justice took a turn recently when a court in the province of Bizkaia ordered the case be reopened and for the autopsy carried out on Rafael at the time to be expanded on.
Rafael was 39 years old when he died on 26 April 2019. He had an enviable life: a partner who loved him, a good job, four siblings who adored him, the sense of freedom from running in the mountains near his home in the Cantabrian town of Maliaño and the black belt in taekwondo he had just achieved - his only concern was his thinning hair.
He selected the Dermitek clinic after seeing the success story former Spanish footballer Ismael Urzaiz had with them. They wanted 5,000 euros, but he didn't want to risk going abroad. Safety was the most important consideration.
In the family's first interview given to the media, Rafael's brother told El Correo newspaper: "Nobody can lose their life because of a hair transplant. Our brother was given enough anaesthetic for a horse so that the procedure could be done more quickly."
According to the family, alarm bells were set off straight away on the day of Rafael's hair transplant as no tests were done prior to the surgery. The doctor who was going to perform the transplant was also the same person who administered the anaesthesia, without an IV, and not even a support nurse or assistant in the room. The nurse who allegedly read Rafael the document with the possible risks of the operation, and who collected his consent form, did not go to the clinic that day.
After about 40 minutes into the operation, and 16 shots of lidocaine solution, Rafael's mobile phone dropped out of his hand and he started to convulse, before going into cardiopulmonary arrest. The doctor called for help and they tried to resuscitate him on the spot.
The first ambulance that arrived was a basic life support ambulance and not sufficient to deal with the seriousness of Rafael's state. A second ambulance was called which took him to Basurto hospital. He was then transferred to Valdecilla hospital in Cantabria. When he arrived he had barely 1% brain activity. The following day he was pronounced dead.
"At the hospital they told us 'your brother has been killed. Nobody dies from a hair transplant'," his siblings said.
The family did not take action at first as the first forensic report from the hospital stated that Rafael had died of Brugada Syndrome, a heart condition that can lead to sudden death. They were told it was a hereditary condition and recommended to have tests themselves for prevention. The surprise - and outrage - came when the results for the four siblings and Rafael's baby daughter, who by then had been born, came back negative.
It was then that they decided to file a complaint. The first lawsuit for reckless homicide was dismissed on the basis of the first forensic report. But the family continued to fight and presented expert reports which indicate Rafael still had traces of lidocaine (anaesthesia) 20 hours after the operation. On the basis of this new evidence, the case has has been reopened. Dermitek clinic refused to comment.
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