You may know her as a fitness guru or motivational speaker. Her fans say Chalene Johnson has helped them live their best lives.
But she says she now uses her platform for patient advocacy after what she says she experienced with a famous plastic surgeon. The surgeon denies the allegations, and he is suing her for defamation.
She and more than 30 former patients are suing him for medical malpractice. In the process, her story once again draws attention to the California Medical Board and a patient’s ability to check their doctor’s history.
It’s a problem the NBC-4 I-Team has followed for years, from the time it takes the Board to complete investigations to the penalties it imposes.
“Every time I look in the mirror, I see his work,” Johnson said. “I see what he subjected me to and it’s devastating.”
It all started with her desire for smaller breast implants and a revision of her C-section scar. She said she thought she had her surgeon, dr. Arian Mowlavi, also known as dr. Laguna, carefully examined.
“I checked to make sure, is he well licensed, is he in good standing,” Johnson said. “I’m going to look on the internet to see what the reviews are. They’re all glowing. And of course I’ve talked to other past patients who all had really good things to say, so I felt good about it all. “
But she said she felt uncomfortable from the initial consultation.
“I kept rejecting those voices in my head,” Johnson said, telling herself, “He’s an artist, they’re eccentric and you’re just a fart.”
About a week after the surgery, Johnson talked about it on her podcast:
“I don’t have any complications, actually I’m very happy with my results, but I’m really unhappy with the experience,” Johnson said.
A few days later the bandages came off and she said she realized she had made a terrible mistake.
“I was upset with myself for making the decision and then realizing that the person I trusted, who I paid top dollar to, didn’t listen to anything I said and was careless and reckless,” Johnson said. said. “I woke up with a scar from hip to hip from a C-section scar I tried to revise.”
Johnson said she then saw a new addition on Dr. Discovered Mowlavi’s license page on the Medical Board of California website. It was posted on August 25, 2021, just three weeks after Johnson’s surgery.
The executive director of the Medical Board of California made an accusation against Dr. Mowlavi filed related to the death of a patient, citing a diagnosis of “bleeding from surgical intervention that led to cardiac arrest and cerebral anoxia” and claiming that Dr. Mowlavi “committed ‘gross negligence’ in his care and treatment of Patient A, which included surgical technicians performing liposuction.”
Even more surprising to Johnson, the operation and death described in the indictment actually took place three years earlier, in August 2018.
“It’s sad to me that the California Medical Board says that their mission is to protect patients, but to think that even to this day, it’s actually almost impossible for people to find anything on that matter,” Johnson said.
According to court records, the family of the woman who died in August 2020 reached a million dollar settlement with Dr. Mowlavi reached.
But until October 2022, dr. Mowlavi’s record at the Medical Board seemed clear at a quick glance.
“I don’t know what legislators need to get involved, but the laws need to change because we need to protect patients,” Johnson said.
Johnson said she felt she had to take action and share her story and concerns on her social media platforms. She soon found out that she was apparently not alone.
“Women started flooding my inbox saying, ‘I know who you’re talking about, just based on what you described.'”
She said she spoke to more than 50 former patients and filed her own complaint with the Medical Board. But by the end of October, she had no response from the board.
In response to questions from the I-Team, the Medical Board says it cannot address or even confirm active investigations because they are confidential by law.
“I don’t know what it’s going to take for the Medical Board to act,” Johnson said.
She and more than 30 other former patients are now suing Dr. Mowlavi. The complaint includes allegations of battery, medical malpractice, negligent hiring, training and supervision. The filing also includes graphic post-surgery images of some of the women suing, and screenshots of video from the doctor’s operating room.
The plaintiffs’ lawyers say it was provided by a sales representative who says the video she took shows a surgical technician performing liposuction while Dr. Mowlavi – unmasked – held his fists under the patient.
Dr. Mowlavi responded in a separate court filing the video is “irrelevant” and says the sales rep is not a doctor and “they don’t understand what they’re seeing.” As for post-surgery photos, Dr. Mowlavi said they are “not an accurate depiction of the surgery’s result.”
This filing was made in Dr. Mowlavi’s lawsuit against Johnson for defamation, in which he argues her Instagram posts and podcasts are “blatantly fake,” saying, “Under the guise of helping others [she] leveraged her marketing experience and social platform of 700,000+ followers through a fake medical experience with plaintiff Dr. exploiting Mowlavi for her own financial gain and fame.”
Both cases are currently on hold due to a bankruptcy filing by Dr. Mowlavi. But despite the defamation case, Johnson said she’s not staying silent.
“I’ve been fortunate to have a very successful career, largely because of my community of women, so I feel a responsibility to protect them,” Johnson said. “Every time I stop talking about it, I learn that someone else went to see him. I know I shouldn’t feel guilty about it, but I do. It’s not about my results, it’s about protecting the public.”
Just days after the interview with Johnson, the Medical Board of California published a decision in the case related to the patient’s death in 2018. The decision adopts a stipulated settlement that was not an admission of guilt. The disciplinary order includes:
- A 90-day suspension of Dr. Mowlavi’s license
- 10 years probationary period
- A doctor should monitor Mowlavi’s practice
- He is prohibited from performing or participating in VASER Liposcution surgeries until he completes a clinical competency assessment program.
The I team reached out to Dr. Mowlavi’s lawyers who handled the patient’s death settlement, the Medical Board case and the current litigation. They did not respond to our request for comment. The lawyer who Dr. Mowlavi, represented in his defamation suit against Johnson, declined to comment on the record.