By all accounts, Vishal Thakkar didn't need a nose job. But the 35-year-old divorcé wanted to "be a little selfish for once," he said, and "do something just for me."
Thakkar, who lived in Oklahoma City at the time, said he screened 10 different doctors before settling on a Tulsa-based surgeon for a "minor tweak" to his mildly asymmetric nostrils.
"It was supposed to be in and out thing; in on the weekend and back to life in two days," Thakkar said, speaking from his lawyer's office with a plastic tube where his nearly perfect nose used to be. "That was in 2006, and now everyone can tell I'm messed up."
In the seven years since the "minor tweak," Thakkar has undergone 23 additional operations to address major complications, he said. The slew of surgeries has substituted his nose with a mound of misplaced skin and cartilage.
His nostrils -- the tiny holes that started the saga -- are gone, replaced by a collapsing tunnel held open by a straw.
In a lawsuit filed May 31 in Tulsa County District Court, Thakkar accuses cosmetic surgeon Dr. Angelo Cuzalina of leaving him "grossly deformed, with his nose amputated" and in "indescribable, intolerable pain."
"I would like to believe that I love life too much, but right now death seems peaceful," Thakkar said, admitting that he has considered suicide. "It's painful to breathe, and you have to breathe every second."
He's asking for damages in an "unspecified amount in excess of $75,000."
Thakkar wasn't always so disappointed with Cuzalina's work. He said he was happy with the appearance of his nose after the first surgery, but that he developed breathing problems that sent him back for more.
Between June 2006 and November 2007, Thakkar had eight more surgeries at the hands of Cuzalina, according to the lawsuit.
"The primary problem was the breathing issue," Thakkar said, adding that Cuzalina performed all seven revision surgeries after the initial operation free of charge. "My nose shape wasn't deformed in any way."
But the breathing problem persisted, forcing Thakkar to wear nostril-stretching tubes during non-work hours for four years, he said. Fed up with the tubes, Thakkar opted for more surgery in 2011, skirting second opinions from doctors quoting upwards of $10,000 and returning to Cuzalina -- the surgeon he said "knew [his] face" and would operate for free.
Between August 2011 and July 2012, Thakkar had 14 more surgeries by Cuzalina, according to the lawsuit. Metal implants and cartilage plucked from his ears and rib cage were used as stand-ins for his thinning nasal tissue, he said, before a string of infections led to the eventual "amputation."
"It's just so fricking unfair," Thakkar said, adding that he lost his job because of the ordeal.
On top of the 22 surgeries by Cuzalina, Thakkar said he underwent two operations by a University of Oklahoma surgeon, bringing the total to 24.
"By the time I'll be able to breathe and have a human-looking nose, I will have had about 30 surgeries on my face," he said.
Thakkar's lawyer, Paul Bourdreaux, said Cuzalina and his cosmetic surgeon colleagues at Tulsa Surgical Arts "were in over their heads" after the minor procedure morphed into full-on reconstructive surgery.
"They started trying to fix it by doing procedures they weren't qualified to do," he said, adding that cosmetic surgeons lack the training of Board-certified plastic and reconstructive surgeons. "They tried to do it anyway instead of admitting their error and getting someone else to intervene. They just kept doing surgery after surgery after surgery."
Timothy Best, a lawyer representing Cuzalina, said in a statement that it "would be inappropriate to discuss [Thakkar's] protected health information at this time." He added that his client "is a very experienced cosmetic surgeon who has performed thousands of major cosmetic surgeries," and that Tulsa Surgical Arts "maintains the highest standards of surgery, anesthesia, sterilization and patient care."
Cuzalina is the current president of the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, according to the board's website. In addition to being a board-certified cosmetic surgeon, he's also a board-certified oral and maxillofacial surgeon, according to his resume, holding degrees in both medicine and dentistry.
The American Society of Plastic Surgeons says cosmetic surgeons are held to a lower standard than board-certified plastic surgeons, who are "dedicated to continuously improving plastic surgery techniques through intense research and clinical trials driven towards patient safety and outcomes."
"For example, it may be easy for a non-Board certified surgeon to learn to place a breast implant," the group's website reads. "But if things did not go to plan and a complication arose, a surgeon who is an expert at reconstructing a breast will be much more competent at handling any potential problem."
Beyond accusing Cuzalina of medical malpractice, Thakkar claims the doctor prescribed an "excessive amount of medication," including the sleep-aid Ambien and the painkiller oxycodone, despite, according to Thakkar, having acknowledged his suicidal thoughts.
"I reach one conclusion from that," lawyer Bourdreaux said. "If he goes away, then there's no lawsuit."
Thakkar said he hasn't spoken to Cuzalina since August 2012, when he was handed a letter explaining that he was no longer welcome as a patient on his way out the clinic door. He's seeking damages for physical and mental pain and suffering, loss of earnings and reputation, and medical and legal fees, according to the complaint.
"Pretty much my life is over," he said. "I don't want anyone else to go through this."