FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- When a panicked Eric and Bonnie Kaplan called Integrated Medical Centers, fearing something had gone terribly wrong with their wrinkle-fighting Botox injections, the owner and his son made an unusual house call.
The Kaplans complained of double-vision, loss of speech and flu-like symptoms. They said they felt like they weighed three tons.
But rather than take the Palm Beach Gardens couple for medical care, Thomas P. Toia and his son, Thomas M., treated the Kaplans "holistically," a lawsuit filed on Thursday alleges.
Telling the Kaplans they were simply dehydrated, the Toias gave them a "Myer's cocktail," a solution containing ascorbic acid, magnesium and vitamins, according to the lawsuit. Within a day, the Kaplans were paralyzed with botulism poisoning. As was Bach McComb, the unlicensed doctor at the clinic where the shots were administered, and his girlfriend Alma "A.J." Hall.
All remain on respirators barely able to move.
The Kaplan's 22-year-old son, Michael Kaplan, said he had just arrived from the University of Central Florida in Orlando for Thanksgiving break when his parents asked him to join them on a ride to the Oakland Park clinic. He said his parents each received six shots around the eyes, the bridge of their noses and forehead area.
Red-eyed, Michael Kaplan said at a news conference that McComb told his parents that the clinic had received a vial containing 100 units of Botox at a cost of $500 and he had administered some of the shots to himself and to Hall a day earlier.
"How many people get Botox? Now they are fighting for their lives," Michael Kaplan said. The Kaplans have another college-age son, Jason.
That night, his father called McComb and told him that he was feeling light-headed. McComb didn't reveal if he and Hall were having similar symptoms, the lawsuit says.
"The family had no idea," said Stuart Grossman, the attorney representing the Kaplan family.
McComb and Hall are hospitalized in Bayonne, N.J., after falling ill during a Thanksgiving visit. The Kaplans are at Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center. All are critical but stable.
Grossman said the Toias contributed to the Kaplan's false belief that they had been given harmless Botox.
"If they had any decency at all, they would have said, 'Let's get you folks to the hospital,"' he said.
The attorney representing the Toias did not return phone calls. The younger Toia said in affidavit filed last week in California that he ordered vials of botulinum toxin under the name of a doctor who has said he works one day a week at the clinic.
The Kaplans are suing the Toias, McComb and the two companies that provided the clinic with botulinum toxin that was at least 200 times stronger than Botox. According to the lawsuit, McComb and the Toias failed to dilute the toxin adequately in a saline solution.
Botox works by partially paralyzing the muscles around wrinkles, thus smoothing out the skin.
How the clinic was able to obtain such a deadly substance in a time of tightened security and closer scrutiny of toxins is being investigated.
"The question is how is it possible that it makes its way to a clinic in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to be administered to people such as the Kaplans," Grossman said. "If you have the awesome power to make such a deadly product, how is it possible it can wind up in the hands of someone who sells it as Botox and causes this type of life-destroying complications?"
A single gram of crystalline botulinum toxin could kill a million people if evenly dispersed and inhaled, according theJournal of the American Medical Association.
The toxin was shipped in a powder and is reconstituted by mixing it with a saline solution. It was made by northern California-based List Biological Laboratories. The product was shipped to the clinic by Tucson, Ariz.-based Toxin Research International.
While the lawsuit filled in some details of how Thanksgiving turned into a horror story for the Kaplans, it doesn't explain how the couple ended up at the Oakland Park clinic on Nov. 24.
Kaplan is a successful chiropractor who could have afforded the best of treatments. Instead, he and his wife were treated by McComb, an osteopath stripped of his medical license this year for overprescribing OxyContin and other narcotics. Five of his patients in Sarasota died.
And neither of the Toias _ both of whom were in the room when the Kaplans got the injections _ are physicians. The elder Toia is a chiropractor; his son is a medical technician.
"Maybe they were offered a deal. I just don't know. I can't talk to my client," Grossman said.
Steve Kaplan, the victim's brother, who attended the news conference, said the situation was overwhelming.
Michael Kaplan said he has been able to communicate with his parents. "I talk to them through small hand gestures," he said.
The doctors don't know if his mother and father will recover. Victims of botulism poisoning can be paralyzed for weeks or months.
"Nothing like this has ever happened," Michael Kaplan said. "They are pretty much writing the book as they go along."
John Pacenti writes for The Palm Beach Post. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cox News Service