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Sydney doctor alleges $370,000 tattoo removal laser was a dud

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A REVOLUTIONARY laser that promised to remove tattoos in as few as four treatments was a $370,000 dud with a success rate of barely over 1 per cent, a lawsuit claims.

Dr Keith Kolodzej, who ran tattoo removal clinic Dr Pico in the Sydney suburb of Darlinghurst until closing down late last year, is suing manufacturer Cynosure for allegedly misleading him about the effectiveness of its Picosure tattoo removal laser.

“We bought it four years ago under the idea that this machine was going to perform miracles, or at least work well,” he said.

But after three years and 497 patients with an average four treatments each, compared with as many as 15 for a traditional machine, Dr Kolodzej says the machine only performed seven complete tattoo removals.

“Seven people out of 497 is pretty pathetic,” he said.

“Yes, it did fade a lot of tattoos; some people are happy with that and that’s OK. We had maybe two people we’ve refunded, but most people know we bought an expensive machine and tried our best to make it work. I bought it outright myself. This is where it kicks me a lot, [that was] kind of my retirement money.”

Cynosure describes the Picosure as the world’s “first, fastest and most effective picosecond aesthetic laser”, which delivers “ultra-short pulse bursts of energy to the skin in trillionths of a second”.

“Picosecond pulse width is 100 times shorter than nanosecond technology, enabling unmatched photomechanical impact for better clearance with fewer treatments and less fluence [exposure to radiation],” the website reads. “Ideal for recalcitrant tattoos and enhanced shattering of pigment for optimised results.”

In a since deleted Facebook post from April 2014, Cynosure said the “revolutionary technology allows you to achieve unparalleled tattoo removal in just two to six treatments”. But according to the 43-year-old, it barely worked from day one.

He’s suing Cynosure to get back the $370,000 he spent on the laser, the cost of setting up his business, plus lost wages he could have earned working as a locum doctor during the three years he ran his tattoo clinic — significantly more than the cost of the laser itself.

Dr Kolodzej said there were about 35 Picosure lasers in Sydney and up to 75 clinics used them nationally. He said many had since been in contact with him and “they’re not happy with their machine”.

“I want to show the world that it’s not any better than the lasers that cost $10,000,” he said.

A notice posted on the Dr Pico website and outside the clinic reads: “Oh no! Dr Pico is closing down. Thank you to all our wonderful clients over the years.

“Unfortunately, our PicoSure laser simply did not perform as promised. And now it does not perform at all. Thus we are taking our issues with cynosure to the courtroom.

“Dr Pico is preparing this and other data from our clinic for publication. We will also be hosting seminars in the near future to share our knowledge. Stay tuned!”

In his statement of claim filed in the Federal Court, Dr Kolodzej alleges Cynosure claimed the Picosure laser would “result in removal of even the most recalcitrant tattoos in three to four treatments, compared to 10-15 treatments using a normal Q switch tattoo removal machine”.

He further alleges the company told him he could “expect a return on investment of between $43,333 and $108,333 per month gross profit” from the laser.

“The tattoo removal business has not been profitable and Dr Pico has lost the opportunity to earn the income he was earning prior to July 2014,” the statement of claim said.

Dr Kolodzej said he now tells patients “the technology is not ready to take your tattoo off”. “A lot of people have tattoos, and a lot of people do want to get them off, but the technology is just not there yet,” he said.

The Dr Pico clinic opened in September 2014, but Dr Kolodzej said he didn’t pick up on the problems straight away. “You treat someone, you wait six to eight weeks, treat them again,” he said.

“It takes time for the ink to fade, weeks or even months between sessions. Certainly after six months, we were seeing a lot of tattoos not changing as much as we would have liked. After one year we had an idea that this didn’t seem to be as good as we thought.”

He said he still owed thousands of dollars to some clients who bought packages. “We will pay the clients back whatever they invested,” he said.

“I’m a pretty straightforward guy; we had good relations with our customers despite the lack of results and performance. They kind of went through the agony with us. By the end of the year I was almost turning people away.”

Dr Kolodzej, originally of Vermont, has previously made headlines after it emerged his US medical licence was revoked in 2007 over drug and alcohol issues. He first came under the spotlight in 2011 when broadcaster Derryn Hinch raised concerns on his radio program, prompting hospital chiefs to come to his defence.

Now registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency and with a clean record, he is suspicious that his drug and alcohol problems from more than a decade ago were once again dredged up by the media less than two weeks after his lawyers sent their first legal letter to Cynosure.

In August last year, a TV crew from Channel 9’s A Current Affair “came barging in” to his clinic, with the subsequent story also appearing the Daily Mail.

“The same story, nothing new, the same information from 12 years ago, popped up again,” he said. “I don’t think that’s a coincidence. They sent the media after me. They went after me to try and scare me away.”

Cynosure Australia managing director Dennis Cronje has disputed Dr Kolodzej’s claims.

“Cynosure … is defending the proceedings as we are confident with the performance, quality and effectiveness of our product,” Mr Cronje said in an email.

“As Dr Kolodzej has chosen to ventilate these matters in the Federal Court, we believe that the court is the appropriate forum for these issues to be heard and determined.”

The case is scheduled for a mediation hearing in mid-August.

“I’m not looking to go after them,” Dr Kolodzej said. “I’m asking them for a fair reimbursement of the big investment I made, for a product they sold which doesn’t do anything.”

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