Nature of the Beast

Plastic surgeon Billy Ringer has been sued ten times for malpractice. He's on probation for sexual misconduct. He sewed a needle into Colleen Guidy. But he's still in business -- cutting, vacuuming, rearranging and, it seems, injuring patients.

Ringer denies all the allegations against him, even those supported by medical records and other documents. Guidy's problems, he says, were likely caused by poor circulation or the patient's failure to follow proper postsurgical instructions. As for the verbal abuse, Ringer denies he ever spoke to Guidy as she and her husband claim. "That's pretty ridiculous," he responds. "I would have said, 'Oh, no, don't be a wuss' or whatever."

He also flatly denies seeking treatment for substance abuse; asked if he has ever appropriated any narcotics from the clinic for his personal use, he offers a dismissive "Nah."

Though Ringer isn't entirely sure what's motivating his accusers, he thinks that at least the Guidys believe what they're saying, to a point. But he says he explained the potential hazards of the surgery to them, and it's sometimes hard for laypeople to understand the complexities of medicine. "She developed a couple of dead skin areas, basically," he says. "Every plastic surgeon in the world has seen that happen."

As for the others, Ringer says they're probably acting out of either greed or vengeance. "Unbelievable," he says with exasperation after being told of another charge in the litany, a letter he'd allegedly written to his lawyer confessing to misappropriating drugs from his clinic. "Next time I'm just gonna give people the money they want."

And he reserves special vitriol for Barr, whom he says he fired in January for a miserable job performance. She took out a $12,000 loan in his name without his permission, he says, and stole much of the documentation she has provided to her attorney. "When you do a neuropsychiatric evaluation," Ringer says, "you'll find she's definitely a mental case, let's put it that way."

His clinic at 821 Peakwood is still open for business, and Ringer is still nipping and tucking anyone willing to pay. Oddly, though he's carved out his niche in the plastic surgery field doing penis enlargements and other procedures on men, most of his problems have resulted from his interactions, both personal and professional, with women. "I think women are 100 percent more likely to file a lawsuit than a man," he explains. "I don't know if it's just the nature of the beast, or what."

Billy Ringer opened the Center for Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery in 1991. Originally located on the Northwest Freeway, the outpatient clinic was his only outlet; while many plastic surgeons perform more complex procedures in hospital settings, Ringer had no privileges at any other medical facilities. He used to have privileges at "all different hospitals across the city," he says (though he won't name any), but didn't bother to renew them. "I just got tired of going into all the meetings, doing all their little committees."

Ringer obtained a degree from the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1980. After a surgery internship and residency in Ohio, he received further training at an osteopathic center in Philadelphia. His penile enlargement brochure lists him as a board-certified plastic surgeon and vice president of the American Academy of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons, a subdivision of the American Association of Physician Specialists, which issued the board certification. None of those organizations is among those recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties, the group that is generally considered the standard setter among the many on the medical landscape; the ABMS accepts board certification for only MDs, while Ringer's groups credential osteopaths.

The malpractice lawsuits began the same year he set up shop in Houston; Ringer would rack up eight in the ensuing decade. While court records indicate that a few were dropped by the plaintiff, at least half were settled before they got to trial. He was also co-party to more than 60 silicone implant lawsuits along with the manufacturers, though there's no indication he did anything other than install them.

In the records, Ringer is, if nothing else, consistent. He makes himself scarce from the outset: The files detail repeated, unsuccessful efforts by constables or process servers to serve him at his office. His filed responses invariably include a blanket denial of even the most specific charges. He designates himself as an expert witness regarding normal standards of care. And he doesn't carry liability insurance. Asked why not, Ringer says that having insurance "just acts as a red flag for attorneys to try and sue plastic surgeons."

The lack of insurance has deterred some plaintiffs from collecting what they felt was their due from Ringer. Frances Farrell, widow of former Astros pitcher Turk Farrell, sued Ringer in 1995 for surgery that left her with "permanent scarring and disfigurement." In a case eerily parallel to that of Colleen Guidy, Ringer had told Farrell her repairs were "doing well" and "looked good," according to court documents, after which her incision burst apart. She got a settlement, recalls her attorney, Newton Schwartz, but "it was not what the case was worth."

Others managed to tap into his cash reserves. Adriana King settled with Ringer in 1997, a case that became the basis for an investigation by the Board of Medical Examiners resulting in Ringer's probation. "We were very pleased with the settlement," says Kenneth Morris, who represented King.

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