The revoked, the accused, and the phony: A bad year for TikTok doctors

As more and more users watched TikTok doctors give medical advice in 2023, their popularity skyrocketed – but sometimes at a steep cost. Kelly Rissman reports

Sunday 31 December 2023 17:00
<p>Dr Kenneth Wilstead aka Dr Kenny Smiles, Dr Roxy and Dalya Karezi </p>

Dr Kenneth Wilstead aka Dr Kenny Smiles, Dr Roxy and Dalya Karezi

Medical professionals have flocked to TikTok to discuss the behind-the-scenes aspects of their jobs, garnering the trust of millions of viewers; but their popularity is sometimes to their own detriment, allowing users a peek too far behind the curtain.

Viewers have suddenly become privy to closed-door surgeries through the camera lens of a doctor’s phone, given professional insight into celebrities’ suspected plastic surgery operations, and granted access to free medical tips on skincare, therapy, dentistry, and virtually every medical field under the sun.

But as the profiles of some TikTok medical specialists rise, their records are re-analysed, complaints by previous patients resurface, and new ones may be empowered to come forward.

Disgraced plastic surgeon “Dr Roxy,” once-popular dentist “Dr Kenny,” and outed fake “doctor” Dalya Karezi are all cautionary tales for TikTok scrollers.

In each of these cases, their rise to fame brought increased scrutiny — followed by their demise.

Here is a look back at a rough year for DocTok:

Dr Roxy

Perhaps no greater controversy rocked DocTok than plastic surgeon Katharine Roxanne Grawe, known online as “Dr Roxy.”

Dr Grawe amassed a following of nearly 824,000 on TikTok by livestreaming surgeries, speaking to the camera as she walked through the steps of procedures, and dancing in her surgical gear.

But in November 2022, the wildly popular content that drew such an impressive fan base came to a screeching halt. Patients complained to the Ohio medical board, prompting an investigation that ended with her licence’s permanent revocation on 12 July.

Only three unnamed patients — and their surgical complications — were listed in the Ohio medical board’s notice of Dr Grawe’s suspension in November. But at the time her licence was revoked, the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas showed 12 legal cases that named Dr Grawe and her clinic Roxy Plastic Surgery.

Lyn Herron is listed in neither the medical board notice nor the lawsuits.

Ms Herron didn’t find Dr Grawe through Instagram or TikTok — she found the plastic surgeon the old-fashioned way: through her insurance network.

Plastic surgeon Dr Grawe appears before an Ohio Medical Board hearing in July

Ms Herron was seeking a doctor to perform breast reduction surgery in 2011. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer in her right breast years earlier. After enduring radiation and taking medication for five years, she was told she should look into getting her breasts reduced.

The Ohio-based patient had consulted with five surgeons, but she landed on Dr Grawe. She was touched by the plastic surgeon’s bedside manner: “She totally got it. She was sensitive as a woman to our needs.”

When consulting with Dr Grawe, Ms Herron recalled the doctor asking, “So what are you expecting as an end result? Because some women expect to be able to go pose for Playboy after surgery.”

Ms Herron replied with equal humour, “Oh, no, I’m just expecting them to be the same cup size and the nipples pointed in the same direction.” Ms Herron recalled Dr Grawe “smacked me on the leg laughing and said, ‘I can do that.’”

Doctors working with her through her cancer battle told Ms Herron that she needed to wait a year after her radiation finished before her breasts were operated on.

“And so I waited. It was a year and a day later,” Ms Herron laughed. Her surgery was scheduled for 22 July 2011, according to medical records. Things seemed to go well, but when she returned for her first follow-up appointment, doctors found she had developed hematomas, Ms Herron recalled.

Dr Grawe tried aspirating them, but some proved too difficult, so she told Ms Herron to come back in two weeks.

But when Ms Herron returned to the office, Dr Grawe was nowhere to be found. Another doctor informed her that Dr Grawe was no longer practising there.

A spokesperson for OhioHealth, a network of hospitals that includes the one where Ms Herron was treated by Dr Grawe, told The Independent that they could not confirm Dr Grawe’s departure because she was never employed there. However, the spokesperson said “it’s possible for non-employed physicians to have privileges to use spaces, such as surgical areas or to visit their patients.”

Ms Herron then recalled the doctor taking her to the in-house operating room where “he put some chucks pads on the table, sliced me open at my incision site, and let me bleed out onto the table.”

After that, “he put a rubber tube in my breast, stitched around it, and then said, ‘there you go, the blood will drain out through the tube.’” When the patient asked where the blood would drain out, Ms Herron remembered him suggesting, “Well just put a maxi pad in your bra.”

An OhioHealth spokesperson said the hospital couldn’t comment on a specific procedure due to patient privacy laws.

A week later, Ms Herron wound up in hospital with a breast infection.

She said the surgery “brought all of the negativity from the cancers: the burn marks, the scars and everything into the new breast, and the nipple was off at a 45 degree angle,” she recalled. She said it didn’t look like a breast, but rather a “topographical map of burn marks and scars.”

Ms Herron wanted to talk to Dr Grawe. After a brief phone call, Dr Grawe agreed to meet her patient in person. After showing the doctor the “grotesque thing on my right side,” Ms Herron recalled Dr Grawe replying: “I’d say that’s well within the limits of expectations.” Ms Herron thought back to her Playboy comment.

The cancer survivor never went back to Dr Grawe.

Dr Roxy discusses a BBL surgery

In the dozen years since her surgery, Ms Herron has kept up good spirits; her cancer is now gone and within six months of the surgery, she started referring to her botched right breast as “Frankenboob.” However, she said that it still feels like a “softball,” and is so unnatural that it doesn’t move when she lies down.

When news broke that Dr Grawe’s medical licence had been revoked in Ohio, she said she was “relieved.” Ms Herron said, “I tried to tell so many people during those years not to go to her because she’s a hack. And then when I saw people were going to her because of TikTok, I was just incensed.”

Ms Herron added that “nobody would have believed me” if she had gone on TikTok and spoken out, citing the “enjoyable, likeable” persona of “Dr Roxy.”

Neither Dr Grawe nor her lawyer responded to multiple requests for comment by The Independent.

Since her licence was revoked in July, Dr Grawe has been listed as a defendant in five additional cases in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.

Dr Kenny Smiles

Another affable online persona-turned-controversy magnet is Kenneth Wilstead, aka “Dr Kenny Smiles.” The Texas-based dentist boasts 700,000 followers on Instagram, 500,000 followers on Instagram, and now, a host of misconduct complaints.

There was an outpouring of complaints from his patients after the dentist announced via TikTok on 31 August that a new show was being made about his practice, Smile Again Dental.

He posted a video on the platform, asking users to share their best “sob story,” as he said he was “looking for contestants that would benefit from a life changing smile makeover.” To submit a video, hopefuls had to use the hashtag #DKSCasting. “Not casting couch,” Dr Kenny clarified.

Allegations have since circulated on TikTok about his controversial responses to those audition videos.

One woman in particular, 34-year-old Krystal Widrig, said she had a strange experience with Dr Kenny.

Ms Widrig, a Canadian content creator and mother of five, said that she entered a “smile giveaway” contest, which came from a partnership between Dr Kenny and a TikTok star. Contestants had to submit a video describing why they wanted a new smile, and then, “All you have to do is fly to Texas, and I’ll fix you up,” he explained in a September 2022 video.

Dr Kenny Smiles discussing ‘smile giveaways’ on TikTok

Ms Widrig said her molars were cracking due to her many “back to back” pregnancies. One day, an online follower offered to pay for her to get her teeth fixed. Although the seemingly kind stranger paid for the initial surgeries to remove her cracked teeth, he bailed on paying for the surgery replacement molars.

So, when she came across Dr Kenny’s giveaway, she couldn’t resist. She posted a video on Instagram and tagged him. “And that’s when he started DMing me,” Ms Widrig said.

The initial exchanges were innocent. She sent photos of her teeth and asked how much it would cost. He said he could fix her teeth for $15,000 — compared to the $38,000 quote she had received in Canada, that was a great deal, she said. They stopped chatting.

She reached back out to him after he posted a preview for a debate between him and Dr Miguel Ortiz in June, she recalled. The two dentists were arguing; Dr Ortiz was advocating for braces and veneers in place of Dr Kenny’s cosmetic surgeries. (This conversation resulted in a lawsuit filed by Dr Kenny against Dr Ortiz.)

As Ms Widrig remembered it, Dr Kenny was explaining that his surgeries only could be done in one day, an incredibly short timeline compared to the months braces take to realign teeth. So, the mother-of-five replied to Dr Kenny’s Instagram story in his DMs, commenting that she sided with him, not wanting to have braces at 30.

She then sent a voice note saying her original quote “was 38,000 dollars and it wasn’t even top-notch.” He then allegedly replied, “You’re perfection. Now take off your clothes.”

Ms Widrig said she scrolled back to see if she had given him the wrong idea. While she said she posts “sexy pictures” on her Instagram, her texts with him were not flirtatious. “I didn’t know that Kenny was that type of person. So I was just so thrown off by it,” she said.

Ms Widrig said that their conversation “dwindled” after his “out-of-the-blue” comment, but she reached out again in 2023 after he announced his upcoming show, citing that she still needed the dental work done and a “free smile” was still on the table. Following the instructions, she sent a video for why she wanted to win the contest, to which he allegedly responded: “I just f***ing love you.”

Both exchanges turned her off from going to see Dr Kenny, she said. “My thing with Dr Kenny was mild,” Ms Widrig conceded.

Dr Kenny advertising his new show on TikTok

But another woman took him to court.

Brooke Brinkschroeder went to see Dr Kenny in April 2018 for a dental procedure. The complaint accuses Dr Kenny of making “several sexually inappropriate comments in her presence before and during the procedure.”

After the procedure, before taking a photo of the results, Dr Kenny allegedly told Ms Brinkschroeder, “My assistants know the only way they can get me to smile is if I’m grabbing tits and ass.”

She hoped “the statement was merely a joke,” the complaint states.

As the photo was being taken, the suit alleges, Dr Kenny “grabbed her right buttocks and forcefully squeezed it.”

In response, “Ms. Brinkschroeder was in shock and not immediately able to process what occurred.” The patient felt “uncomfortable,” and was unsure about how to leave the conversation with the dentist, until a window of opportunity opened up: a staff member informed Dr Wilstead that his next patient was ready for him.

That’s when, the complaint states, “the staff member showed [Dr Kenny] a picture of the next patient’s cleavage, demonstrating a pattern of inappropriate sexual conduct.”

She accused Dr Kenny of assault and negligence, among other charges. Speaking to NBC News in September, the dentist said he is “totally innocent of any inappropriate touching of that woman.” The Independent has reached out to Dr Kenny’s lawyer.

The case will go before a jury in February, according to online court records.

‘Dr’ Dalya Karezi

Dalya Karezi, whose handle was “Dr.Dalya.s,” posed a different kind of threat for TikTok users.

She boasted 243,000 followers on TikTok, and her videos — showing her in scrubs and a stethoscope — had been liked by roughly 1.5 million users, according to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).

That was before the reality behind the stethoscope was revealed. Ms Karezi posted 56 TikTok videos from May 2020 through September 2021 while discussing issues related to reproductive health, like ovarian cancer and fibroids, and posted photos on Instagram of her wearing scrubs while giving so-called medical advice.

In one video posted on TikTok, while wearing pink scrubs, she makes sweeping claims that eating certain meats increases the risk of developing different cancers.

These videos were watched nearly 15.5 million times, the agency said.

In one Instagram post captured by The Sydney Morning Herald, she wrote: “Trust me I know many physicians delay self care when we feel like we have 100 items on our plate and are constantly racing against time. One thing I am learning and have adopted since COVID-19 is that I have become more conscious of how I spend my week and what portion is actually ME TIME only.”

Dalya Karezi posing in scrubs

Despite her massive following, Karezi was not a doctor at all. AHPRA investigated her.

During the course of its investigation, the agency found that she had “sent various emails between July 2019 and April 2021 in which she indicated she was authorised or qualified to practise in the medical profession.” In these emails, she would sign off by using the title “Dr,” as well as other qualifications like MBBS, M RepMED, OBGYN Intern, RMO and VMO, despite not being qualified.

Her thriving social media presence came to an abrupt end on 12 October 2023, when Karezi was convicted in Australia’s Downing Centre Local Court. Karezi had pleaded guilty to two counts: one count of taking or using a title indicating she was authorised to practise medicine and one count of indicating that she was a medical practitioner.

She was sentenced to a two-year Community Corrections order and was ordered to pay AHPRA’s legal fees, amounting to AU$13,300.

She read an apology letter — obtained by the Daily Mail — to the court. In the letter, Karezi said she wanted to steer clear of both medicine and social media in the future. “I did not want and still do not want to do anything to do with health ever again,” she penned.

“I am so terrified of social media now that I do not even want to be on social media at all. I will never have any social media accounts ever again,” Karezi wrote. All of her accounts have since been taken down.

Following the conviction, AHPRA CEO Martin Fletcher issued a statement: “Falsely claiming to be a medical practitioner, including on social media, puts the public at risk. Today’s outcome is a reminder of how seriously we take this behaviour.”

‘Dr’ Karezi poses in pink scrubs and a stethoscope on Instagram

The chair of the Medical Board of Australia, Dr Anne Tonki, also weighed in: “Registered medical practitioners have done years of training and must abide by strict professional Codes of conduct. It’s not just putting Dr in your name and wearing a pair of scrubs. Hopefully this outcome is a strong deterrent.”

The Independent has reached out to her lawyer. According to the Daily Mail, before she was convicted, the fake doctor was working at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

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