PITTSBURGH - Michael Potkul says he was told he would have a scar no wider than the stroke of a pen if he underwent surgery to rearrange his scalp to get a full head of hair.
Instead, he claims, he ended up with scars from his temples to his neck and depression that drove him to attempt suicide. And he's still losing his hair.
Potkul, 33, took off his hairpiece yesterday to show the marks to a jury - including three men with thinning hair - that is hearing his $1.3 million malpractice lawsuit against Dr. Dominic A. Brandy.
Potkul said Brandy sugar-coated the risks of surgery and operated repeatedly despite the deterioration of his scalp. Brandy claims Potkul signed a consent form that mentioned scarring, then abandoned treatment before a final, essential operation.
"If you do enough cases, you're going to have patients here and there who will voice their displeasure in a courtroom," said Jerry Brandy, the doctor's brother and executive director of his practice.
Potkul said he contacted Dominic Brandy six years ago after seeing him on a talk show. Potkul's hair was beginning to thin, and his brothers were being teased about going bald.
"Everything depends on looks. You can turn on the TV at night and see 30 infomercials about everything you can do to your body - diet videos, all that stuff. I wanted to look like everybody else. I wanted to look good," Potkul said during a break in the trial in Allegheny County Court.
Brandy performed five operations to stretch hairy skin from the back of Potkul's head to the top and to transfer grafts of hairy scalp to cover bald spots, Potkul said. The sixth operation would have been another scalp graft.
But Potkul said he was so depressed by the results of the first five operations that he shot himself in the chest in 1992. The bullet missed his heart and went out his back.
Brandy severed key arteries as he tried to stretch Potkul's scalp, stunting hair growth instead of encouraging it, said Dr. Ernest Manders, Potkul's new plastic surgeon. He said he is reluctant to alter Potkul's scalp any more because the skin could die.
Manders said that, as an associate editor of a medical journal, he once rejected an article submitted by Brandy on scalp reconstruction because the methods were "potentially harmful" and had "significant limitations."
Brandy has been in practice for 15 years and runs an ad campaign for his services in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida.
"Dominic Brandy is a salesman who just happens to have a medical degree," Potkul said. "He really needs somebody to come along and wake him up to what he is doing and make him clean up his act."