Local News

Doctor Linked to Spa Lidocaine Death Reprimanded

Posted August 15, 2007 10:48 a.m. EDT
Updated August 15, 2007 6:13 p.m. EDT

— A physician connected to a Raleigh spa that administered a fatal dose of lidocaine to a North Carolina State University student two years ago agreed Wednesday to a reprimand by the North Carolina Medical Board.

Shiri Berg, 22, died Jan. 5, 2005, about a week after lapsing into a coma following seizures. Authorities determined she overdosed on lidocaine, which was in an anesthetic gel she had applied to her legs in preparation for hair removal treatments at Premier Body Laser and Skin Clinic in Raleigh.

Dr. Samuel Wurster obtained the lidocaine for Premier Body and established a protocol where spa patients could get it without a prescription or a physical exam.

Wurster, who now practices in Chicago and wasn't at the medical board meeting, agreed Wednesday to be reprimanded by the medical board and will not supervise another laser hair removal procedure in any state.

"I think, importantly, he agrees that he will not supervise laser hair removal services in this state or any other state as a medical director," said Brian Blankenship, an attorney for the medical board.

Wurster's North Carolina medical license expired on July 25, and the agreement allows the board to reject any effort to renew the license based on the Berg case without allowing him to appeal the decision.

Blankenship said the reprimand and the license suspension of Dr. Ira David Uretsky, another physician connected to the spa, alerts doctors and patients that laser hair surgery is a serious medical procedure that carries health risks.

"Most people don't think about a topical taking your life," said Melissa Smith, a local electrologist who lobbied for a new law that aims to make the procedure safer.

"With (Berg's) death, it really sprung a lot of nerves," Smith said. "We decided that something needed to be done to protect the consumer."

Under the law, which takes effect Oct. 1, laser hair practitioners must complete a minimum of 30 hours of laser training at a board-certified school and renew certification annually.

"We have dramatically tightened standards, and I think the board's actions have put other doctors and patients on notice that this is not something to be taken lightly," he said.

The medical board also adopted tougher guidelines for laser hair removal procedures.

Medical directors at clinics performing the procedures now have to give clients physicals before their first procedure, give them instructions when dispensing prescriptions and provide more oversight.

"We have changed the standard. I think doctors and people receiving laser hair services did not take this seriously enough," Blankenship said. "I think, unfortunately, the Shiri Berg case demonstrated the tragic consequences of not treating this as a medical procedure, which is what it is."

In August 2005, the state medical board recommended that Uretzky, the medical director of Premier at the time of Berg's death, should lose his license for six months. The board alleged that he failed to take medical histories or perform physical exams before spa clients obtained the prescription gel.