US-based plastic surgeon's anger at Dubai identity theft

Dr Steven Hopping, the plastic surgeon whose identity was stolen by a disgraced doctor, has likened the experience to watching "a very bad movie".

United Arab Emirates - Dubai - May 2, 2010:

NATIONAL: President of American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery Dr. Steven B. Hopping (cq-al) poses for his picture at the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery Hospital in Healthcare City in Dubai on Sunday, May 2, 2010. Another American doctor posed as Hopping and performed hundreds of surgeries on patients in Dubai before being caught. "Cosmetic surgery is serious business," said Hopping who helped launched the clinic two years ago. "The public needs to be certain of credentials before they have any treatments because complications can and do occur." Amy Leang/The National
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DUBAI // The plastic surgeon whose identity was stolen by a disgraced doctor has likened the experience to watching "a very bad movie". Dr Steven Hopping, a Washington-based surgeon, said the worst part of the ordeal was hearing of the damage Steven Moos had done to his unsuspecting victims. "Nothing like this has ever happened to me before," Dr Hopping told The National yesterday. "It was like watching a movie. But as the story unravelled it turned into a very bad movie. I was shocked, then I was dismayed, then I was angry.

"But for me the most serious thing is the damage that has been done to patients who were treated in substandard conditions. "He has taken advantage of people's trust and the relationship between a patient and a doctor, which most people hold in very high regard." Moos was caught impersonating the respected surgeon and more than 100 patient files were found in his villa, where he operated on the kitchen table. Police and the Dubai Health Authority had launched an undercover operation after they were tipped off that he was operating illegally and trading on Dr Hopping's name.

Last week, Moos was sentenced to two months in jail. The real Dr Hopping is now in Dubai for one of his routine visits. Since arriving, he has already treated one of Moos's victims. The woman, in her 30s, has severely damaged lips which have little feeling in them after Moos performed what should have been a simple surgery. After her consultation with Dr Hopping, the woman said she was thrilled. "He said he would see me again in September. He was hopeful," she said. "I am just grateful that I have seen him. He was very nice about the whole thing. He gave me some injections to try and even my lips out."

The woman, who is involved in the fashion industry, is building a civil case against Moos; she claims the botched surgery has had an impact on her job. In the UAE, Dr Hopping is based at the plush American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery Hospital in Dubai Healthcare City. His office, with a glass chandelier and paintings hung over gold-embossed wallpaper, is very different to the Al Barsha villa kitchen that Moos used as his operating theatre.

"A doctor's reputation is key," Dr Hopping said, "and we have to work hard throughout our careers to maintain it. This guy was using a reputation I have spent a lifetime building, and using it in a flippant way. To steal a reputation is more than identity theft, it is a form of abuse." Known as a "surgeon to the stars", Dr Hopping, 60, is a successful practitioner - unlike Moos, 40, whose licence was revoked in the US in 2004.

Dr Hopping has been a cosmetic surgeon for more than 20 years and is a former president of the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery. He is certified by four boards including the American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. Moos was wanted by Interpol and the FBI on a number of charges including medical fraud, importing misbranded drugs and giving false statements to the Government. It is believed he was working in China before moving to the UAE, where he practised without a licence.

Dr Hopping is working with his lawyers to determine whether to bring a civil case against Moos when he is deported to the US after his two-month sentence. "Am I glad it is over? Of course. I applaud the UAE for bringing this travesty and this 'doctor' to justice," Dr Hopping said. "We generally revere doctors and personally I am embarrassed that this man is an American. I haven't spoken to any legal authorities in the US and at this point we have not made any decisions to pursue any civil action."

He said he hoped patients would now be more aware of the importance of checking a doctor's credentials and background before agreeing to surgery. Although "relieved" it was over, he said it would not be finished until Moos's victims stopped coming forward. The American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery Hospital was not a free clinic, he said, but would be happy to offer guidance to anyone, and if it could not help, would "try to show people who could".

"Plastic surgery should not be done in the shadows but in the broad daylight. There are excellent doctors in Dubai and you don't need to go to the backstreets to get good, efficient surgery."