Court dismisses liposuction doctor's appeal

Published Nov 16, 2005


The Pretoria High Court has turned down an appeal by a Pretoria general practitioner who was sentenced to a fine of R240 000 or six years in jail last year after a patient on whom he performed liposuction died.

Judges Willie van der Merwe and Rodger Claassen found that while Dr Jan van Almenkerk, 62, performed the operation with the necessary skill, he failed to provide his patient with post-operative care.

Petronella Christina Jansen van Rensburg died about a day after the liposuction on May 11, 2001.

She became extremely ill shortly after she was discharged and her daughter rushed her to the Pretoria East Hospital's emergency unit. The daughter phoned the doctor several times before rushing her mother to hospital. After the third call, Van Almenkerk said the daughter was wasting his time and “kicking up dust”.

It was claimed that he brushed the family off and did not realise the seriousness of the situation.

He was subsequently convicted in the Pretoria Regional Court. Magistrate Peet Johnson at the time said it seemed the woman died after going into shock.

Expert witnesses testified in the lower court that the doctor was wrong in sending Jansen van Rensburg home on the same day of the operation and that her death could have been prevented if she had been given sufficient fluids.

It was argued at the time on behalf of the doctor that he had been running his practise for the past 37 years and that he had treated thousands of patients without any problem. This included performing liposuction on “400 satisfied patients”.

Half of Van Almenkerk's sentence of R240 000 or six years in jail was suspended.

The doctor appealed against both his conviction and sentence. His grounds for appeal included that the magistrate had erred in finding that he did not provide the patient with post-operative care and that he did not react to the complications she later suffered.

But the High Court judges found that Van Almenkerk's duty towards his patient did not end after he performed the operation.

Van der Merwe said the doctor had a duty of care towards his patient even after she had been discharged.

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