A plastic surgeon will spend 15 days in jail and two years on probation for his role in the death of an 18-year-old whose heart stopped as she was about to undergo breast-augmentation surgery.
Dr. Geoffrey Kim faced up to three years in prison after his conviction on charges of attempted reckless manslaughter, a felony, and obstructing phone service, a misdemeanor.
Hours after being sentenced, the Colorado Medical Board suspended Kim’s license.
The Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office said Emmalyn Nguyen went in for a surgical procedure at Colorado Aesthetic and Plastic Surgery on Aug. 1, 2019, and went into cardiac arrest after being administered anesthesia. She fell into a coma and died 14 months later, deputies said.
On the day of the incident, Kim performed CPR and got Nguyen’s heart going – but over the next five hours, he misled her family about the seriousness of the situation, failed to transfer her to a hospital and told staff members not to call 911.
Speaking in a halting voice at his sentencing hearing Thursday morning, Kim apologized.
“I wanted to let … Emmalyn’s family know that, um … there has not been a single day in the past four years I did not think of … and pray for … Emmalyn, and all of them,” he said. “I am devastated to know of the pain and anguish they go through every day. I am so sorry that this happened. I cannot imagine the pain … you go through. … I’m sorry … As a doctor, a father, and as a human being, I feel your pain and … I’m sorry … I’m sorry to all of you … I … I am not a monster. I did care as much as I could for your daughter … thank you.”
It was an emotional hearing before District Judge Michelle Jones, who listened as members of Nguyen’s family talked of their pain and anger.
“Losing a niece was like losing a daughter,” said Jennifer Fam, Nguyen’s aunt. “I still can’t believe this happened. I still pray and hope one day I wake up and this is a bad dream, and I’m able to see her beautiful smile and give her a big hug. We miss her so much. When Emmalyn passed away, it affected our families in every way you can think of.”
“Emmalyn was my older sister,” Calvin Nguyen told the judge. “She was always there for me. Emmalyn was my biggest role model and my guide through life.”
Another aunt, Jeanette Fam, spoke directly to Kim.
“Dr. Kim – you have no idea how this has affected my full entire family,” she said. “It is so hard to be here looking at you. … You’re sitting there all confident thinking everything is OK. Why? Because you think everything is OK.”
In issuing the sentence, the judge said she believed there was little risk that Kim would commit another crime, recognized the mistakes he made, and apologized. She also said his conduct in failing to tell Nguyen’s mother the full truth about what happened – and in refusing to transfer her to a hospital or call 911 – was intentional.
“He continued these actions after one hour, after two hours, after three hours, after four hours, and five hours passing,” she said. “During those five hours, Emmalyn showed no signs of waking up, no signs of improvement.”
She ordered him to jail immediately, followed by supervised probation. She also ordered him to pay a $50,000 fine, pay $4,167.76 for the cost of prosecuting the case, and perform 120 hours of public service “associated with or in a long-term care facility for people who have sustained anoxic brain injuries.”
One of the defense attorneys, John Richilano, said in court that Kim thought that Nguyen would awaken.
“He got it wrong,” Richilano said. “He thought she was going to wake up. His experience was: I’ve seen so many worse cases – why wouldn’t she wake up?”
He declined to comment after the hearing.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Gary Dawson, who prosecuted the case, said afterward that he was disappointed with the sentence but accepted the judge’s decision.
He said the long delay in getting Nguyen care shocked him and others.
“I have never heard of it,” Dawson said. “The legal professions professionals that we spoke to had never heard of anything like that. The ER doctor who received Emmalyn at the hospital was shocked by that information. So it’s that’s one of the most shocking things about this case is how long he attempted to delay that.”
In January 2020, the Colorado Medical Board suspended Kim’s license. A month later, the board put him on probation and required his work to be overseen by other doctors. After being found guilty, the board ordered him to disclose that conviction to his patients.
Then late Thursday afternoon, the board suspended his license, effective at 8 a.m. Friday, “pending proceedings for suspension or revocation.”
Rex Meeker, the nurse anesthetist who sedated Nguyen before her heart stopped, was initially also charged with reckless manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. Prosecutors dropped those charges after new information came to light.
Meeker agreed to surrender his medical license.