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You are here:  Home » News & Research » Hair Loss News Center » HairPiece Inventor Charged with Attempted Murder
Creator of snap-on hairpieces charged with attempted murder
Anthony Pignataro, a plastic surgeon who became a TV celebrity as the creator of snap-on hairpieces, was living the good life four years ago. A wife and children. A red Lamborghini in his driveway. Big-game hunting trips and private-school educations for the couple's son, now 13, and daughter, now 11. But it all began to fall apart when Pignataro admitted to negligent homicide in the death of a breast surgery patient...On Friday he will be sentenced to five to 15 years in prison for poisoning his wife with arsenic, leaving her with reduced feeling and mobility in her limbs. Authorities said he poisoned his wife in a twisted attempt to show that sometimes people die, despite the efforts of the best doctors. The son of a surgeon, Pignataro gained local celebrity for his 1990s invention of a hairpiece that bolts to snaps surgically implanted in the scalp. He was his own first patient and demonstrated his snap-on hair on "The Maury Povich Show," "Hard Copy" and elsewhere.

But Pignataro, who obtained his medical degree in Puerto Rico in 1985, had more than his share of professional problems. Health Department records and patient accounts document at least a half-dozen cases of surgical and other errors. Among them: damage to a patient's brain during nose surgery and profuse bleeding following two "tummy tucks."

It was the 1997 case of Sarah Smith that would be his professional downfall. The 26-year-old mother's heart stopped during cosmetic breast surgery in Pignataro's office. She slipped into a coma and died a week later. According to prosecutor Frank Clark, attending the surgery were a nurse and a high school student-office aide - inadequate anesthesia support, state health officials determined.

To avoid a manslaughter trial, Pignataro pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of criminally negligent homicide and was sentenced to six months in prison. His medical license was revoked. As Pignataro's career ended under the glare of television lights, Deborah Pignataro was at his side, holding his hand at the courthouse. But the Pignataro marriage was strained. After prison, he was in and out of the couple's home, living for periods with a girlfriend, authorities said. By 1999, he was back in the house.

Investigators never determined how the former doctor administered the odorless and taste-free arsenic to his wife. The victim herself was reluctant to believe her husband could be responsible for her debilitating pain, projectile vomiting, loss of orientation and feeling. Prosecutors suggested vindication drove Pignataro: During his wife's first hospitalization, when doctors had yet to diagnose the arsenic poisoning and suspected pancreatitis, Pignataro argued vigorously for surgery.

Medical experts said she probably would not have survived the operation. That would show the world that sometimes patients die and even the best doctors can't stop it, prosecutors said. They were prepared to offer that argument before Pignataro pleaded guilty to attempted assault. "I do think that somehow the Sarah Smith incident prompted him to go off on this kind of crazy thing whereas he was going to somehow be vindicated," Clark said.

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