Colorado plastic surgeon Geoffrey Kim on trial in teen patient’s death

A Colorado plastic surgeon charged with manslaughter in a teenage patient’s death should not be held criminally responsible because a nurse was actually at fault, the doctor’s attorneys argued at the start of his jury trial Tuesday.

Dr. Geoffrey Kim, 54, is charged with manslaughter and negligent homicide in the death of 19-year-old patient Emmalyn Nguyen. The Brighton teenager went to Kim for a breast augmentation surgery in August 2019, when she was 18, but she suffered cardiac arrest after receiving anesthesia, fell into a coma and died 14 months later, in October 2020.

Kim resuscitated Nguyen with CPR after her cardiac arrest, but then failed to call for emergency help for five hours even though she needed immediate care at a hospital, which was better equipped than Kim’s outpatient surgery center, prosecutors with the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office said during opening statements Tuesday.

“Not only does not call 911 himself, but (Dr. Kim) tells every other staff member in the operating room that they cannot call 911 either,” prosecutor Kelsey Tipps said, adding that when they finally did call for help, Kim told first responders that the cardiac arrest had just happened, leading to further delays in her care.

The surgeon’s attorney, John Richilano, argued that Rex Meeker, the nurse anesthetist who gave Nguyen the anesthesia before surgery, actually caused the woman’s death by giving her a mix of dangerous drugs and a much-too-large dose of fentanyl that together stopped her heart.

“It’s too much,” Richilano said of the drug cocktail. “We don’t know why. But Mr. Meeker did it. All while Emmalyn was under his exclusive care, and Dr. Kim was down the hall, waiting for the patient to be ready for her surgery.”

Richilano accused Meeker of failing to properly monitor Nguyen, and said that the delay in moving Nguyen from Colorado Aesthetic and Plastic Surgery in Greenwood Village to a hospital after the cardiac arrest did not contribute to her death.

“The (prosecution) makes a big deal about how this delay happened,” Richilano said. “And It shouldn’t have been that long — full stop. But it was not consequential. It did not cause Emmalyn’s injury.”

Authorities initially brought manslaughter and homicide charges against both Kim and Meeker, but the charges against Meeker were dismissed in September, court records show. Meeker is expected to testify for the prosecution during the jury trial, which began Tuesday and is expected to last into next week.

The Colorado Medical Board temporarily suspended Kim’s medical license in January 2020 and then the next month reinstated it on a probationary status for three years. Meeker surrendered his nursing license in December 2021, state records show.

Lynn Fam, Nguyen’s mother, testified Tuesday about waiting for a call from Kim’s office to let her know that her daughter was done with what was expected to be a 90-minute surgery, only for the call to never come.

She then went to Kim’s clinic, where she waited for hours, after most staff went home, before Nguyen was finally transferred to a hospital. The teenager never regained consciousness, Fam testified.

“She never woke up,” Fam said.

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