PROVO -- By August 2011, Jennifer Swalberg's months-old cosmetic surgery wounds still hadn't healed so she returned to her doctor, Orem-based Joseph Berg, according to new legal documents. During the visit, Berg reportedly injected Swalberg with anesthetic, disappeared for an hour until the anesthetic had worn off, then returned and began cutting into Swalberg. The cutting was excruciating.
"Once he had reopened the incision, Dr. Berg repeatedly stabbed Jennifer's insides with a 'pickle fork,' which Dr. Berg said would loosen the scar tissue," the documents state. "It was excruciatingly painful, and Jennifer began bleeding profusely from the incision. In response to the blood, Dr. Berg instructed Jennifer to hold a paper wrapper against the site to control the bleeding."
The horrific ordeal is recounted as part of a lawsuit Swalberg filed last week against Berg, who received a 6-month jail sentence in April for his conviction on felony kidnapping and drug charges. The lawsuit alleges that after Berg performed cosmetic surgery on Swalberg in May 2011 he committed health care malpractice, battery, lack of informed consent and negligence. The results left Swalberg in pain and disfigured.
"Despite Dr. Berg's representations that he was an 'artist,' Dr. Berg left Jennifer with a series of jagged incision scars; lumps of hardened scar tissue; fat, skin and tissue necrosis from repeated steroid injections; and abnormal tissue distribution."
The lawsuit seeks special, general and punitive damages, all to be determined later. Swalberg's attorney, Ryan Springer, said Monday that due to legal statutes he will be asking for at least $300,000 and possibly more.
According to Springer, the entire ordeal began after a medical condition caused Swalberg to gain weight. Springer said Swalberg then worked the weight off, but went to Berg to help restore her appearance to what it was before the medical condition set in.
The documents go on to describe in graphic detail the months-long process during which Swalberg's resulting wounds apparently festered, putrefied and scarred. The ordeal reportedly began in May 2011 after Swalberg lost the weight and went to Berg for a consultation. Berg eventually operated on Swalberg and removed 8.8 liters of fat and other material, which the documents describe as "a large amount that significantly increased the risk of post-operative complications such as tissue necrosis and fluid accumulation."
Following the surgery, Swalberg was instructed to wear compression garments, but was allegedly not given instructions "regarding post-op drainage." Swalberg subsequently experienced pain, which Berg treated with "excruciatingly painful" steroid injections that he claimed were necessary.
Less than a month later, Swalberg returned to Berg with wounds that were "draining blood and purulent fluid." This time, the documents state, Berg shoved gauze into Swalberg's wounds with his fingers, then pulled it out and stitched her back up. The documents also argue that he failed to document Swalberg's conditions or his treatment.
Swalberg reportedly paid Berg two more visits the following June and received similar treatment, then went in again for an appointment in August. During the August visit, according to the documents, Swalberg waited for three hours then heard a loud crash in the hallway.
"Jennifer opened the door to see what had happened," the documents state, "and she saw Dr. Berg splayed out across the floor, his eyes open and glazed."
Swalberg left and returned later that same month, when she was reportedly stabbed with the pickle fork.
The documents repeatedly characterize Berg's behavior as manifesting "a knowing and reckless indifference toward, and a disregard of, Jennifer's life and rights." The documents also recount Berg's criminal case, which began in November after police responding to an abandoned 911 call found that he had tied his girlfriend to a dresser. The incident eventually led to the criminal charges as well as the revocation of Berg's license to practice medicine.
Springer said Swalberg continues to suffer from Berg's treatment and will have to undergo reparative surgeries that may or may not work.
"The scarring is permanent both on the inside and outside," he added.
Springer went on to say that Swalberg also continues to suffer psychological trauma from the entire ordeal. She decided to file the lawsuit, Springer added, after careful consideration and out of a desire to prevent future victimization.
"We just don't want this to happen to somebody else," he said. "We want to send a message that this is improper."
Court documents do not list an attorney for Berg.