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On this season of Dr Death, we heard from people who went to a doctor for FATA for cancer treatment.
They said that they saw something in her brain and we were referred immediately to Dr. FATA.
We decided to go with Dr. FATA because he was highly touted.
They were met with pain and even death.
And tonight, that doctor is locked up, accused of keeping patients on chemotherapy too long and bilking Medicare out of millions of dollars.
Thousands of patients went through Fata's doors. I thought, wow, it's eight o'clock and this place is already pumping.
All these sheep are sitting here. And, you know, I looked around at the patients and they looked incredibly ill.
They came in for chemo or iron infusions. They were hoping to get better.
We know that's to be expected that with cancer, you feel worse before you feel better.
But that hope for FATA used it against his patients.
That's when it dawned on me like, oh, my gosh, I know. I know what he's doing. Fareed FATA saw an opportunity to make money off people's desperation and he took it. But even though he was stopped, the institution and systems he took advantage of are still mostly intact. In this episode, I'm joined by Mike Hickson by a national investigative reporter for NBC News and the host of another one series, Do No Harm. We'll talk about bad doctors, bad systems and what happens when institutions we trust turn against us.
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But hurry, this deal expires on Friday. That's simply safe. Dotcom doctor. Simply safe dotcom Dr.. From Wendy, I'm Laura Beal, and this is a special episode of Doctor Death Season two. On the Wonderings series, Do No Harm, Mike Hicks and BA tells the story of two sets of parents who fought to save their families after doctors reported their babies injuries to Child Protective Services. Both families initially trusted the doctors caring for their sons. They trusted that the people at CPS had the best interests of children in mind, and both families suffered now do no harm.
And Dr Death are very different stories. But they both involve the trust we place in doctors and institutions. And what happens when that trust is betrayed?
Mike, thanks for joining me as we talk about these two stories. Thanks for having me on to talk with you, Laura.
So in this episode, I'm going to pass off the reporter duties to you. So ask me anything about Dr. Death.
That that sounds great. I'm actually a very big fan of the show, and so I'm very excited to get your perspective on, you know, what you've told in these past two seasons.
So, look, one of the biggest things that stuck out to me from season two was just the scale of Dr. Fata's devastation.
I mean, can you remind us just how big of an impact Fatah had on his patients lives?
I will. And I have to start off with the caveat that the person who really looked into this in depth was the reporter on this series, Heather Schwiering, who did an amazing job and dug up all this information. He was in practice over a period of several years. You have to remember that Dunwich only operated 18 months in Dallas. So because of that, Dr. FATA saw thousands of patients. You know, there were only a few hundred in the actual court case.
But really, there's there's no telling, like, how many patients he hurt.
You know, one of the lines that stuck out to me, I love this line from George Croce where he wondered, what should I do? What do I do?
Do I leave now with the others? Do I, you know, get to the Department of Justice right now? Do I run over there to the FBI office or do I just pull a fire alarm and tell everybody to run for their lives?
I mean, that line sticks with you whether if you pull the fire alarm. Right. And I wanted to pose a hypothetical. Let's say George didn't do anything. He didn't file a whistleblower complaint or go to the Department of Justice. How much longer would Fatah have been able to practice?
You know, that's a good question. And who knows? I mean, he had already been practicing for so long. You know, one of the things that he did was keep all of his employees compartmentalized so no one person could really tell exactly the scope of his fraud. And so it's it's really scary to think about how long he would have continued if people hadn't finally started to put it all together.
I think that's one of the things I love about these stories is they're horrible. Right. But they're like these these kind of heroes and not just like these individual heroes, but there's these regular people who step forward and it's not in their interest. But they come forward and they save people's lives.
Yeah, I mean, they're really they're really depressing stories for sure. But I think they're also affirming stories as as well. I mean, one of the comments I got, which is understandable from from Dr death season two is why in this time of covid, when health care workers are were are just so stressed and working such long hours to take care of people, why would we want to do a story that really highlights the terrible side of the health care system?
And it's a completely valid complaint.
On the other hand, the counternarrative to these stories are the fact that there are heroes in the health care system who saw this and just could not abide by it and and speak up. So it it is really depressing. And it does expose a really terrible side of the health care system.
But it also exposes the heroic nature that some people will go to to try to help other people.
One thing that really surprised me was the lengths that Fred FATA was willing to take to appeal his conviction, even the fact that he was seeking, you know, compassionate release due to covid.
Do you think that he will ever get out of prison?
You know, I'm not one to say I would be doubtful. But you know who who knows? I mean, who who knows how he might get out?
I, I can definitely say that the chances of Christopher Dirnt getting out are pretty miniscule because he's exhausted all of his appeals. Vata I'd be doubtful, but who knows?
You know, I have really mixed feelings as well as I listen about the people who suspected Dr. FATA might be harming patients or cutting corners or just acting unethically but really didn't do anything about it. You know, I've seen that like that same dynamic in my own reporting on stories I've done about, you know, substandard medical care or surgeons who who aren't criminally negligent or dangerous but who are poor in the operating room and shouldn't be. Kind of like there's usually this whole chain of people who have a duty to speak up when they know a doctor is not safe, nurses, medical assistance, fellow doctors, hospital administrators.
And so, like, when I hear these stories, I'm just like, why was Dr. FATA able to keep this going for so long?
Thousands of patients that he treated, who knows how many of them were harmed?
Well, as you know, also from reporting on the health care system for for many years, it's it's hard to call out a doctor. It's hard for other doctors, and it's especially hard for nurses and other people who who know, you know, there's there's a power imbalance that makes it hard.
There's a sense that you don't call out another doctor if you don't know the circumstances. I mean, it's it is it is difficult.
I think some of the value of telling stories like this, though, is to make it more OK for people to call out wrong when they see it.
And you've probably gotten the same kind of messages that I have. It's like this story makes me gives me more courage to speak up when I see things that are wrong. Yeah, that's that's really a good point. The other thing that I've noticed in your reporting in these series and in my own reporting is that. Very often, even though there is this huge power imbalance, the whistleblower, the people who are speaking out or pulling patients inside saying get help or who are bravely filing reports so often nurses like, have you noticed this?
Like it's often even though they're kind of lower on the totem pole, they're the ones caring for patients and they're the ones who put their necks on the line often to stop, stop doctors who are or other problems in the health care system.
And it's so much harder for nurses. I mean, it's really hard for nurses to to do it, as in you know, in this case, I mean, Angela Swanwick filed this report and she's like, OK, is my career over? I mean, and it's just sad that you would think that way. And in some respects, you do want it to be hard because you don't want somebody ruining someone else's career that easily. But, yeah, it it is hard.
And the nurses do know I have such a great respect and regard for nurses. If you've ever been in the hospital or had a loved one in the hospital, you know how vital nurses are to your care. And I, I, I can't express enough how how highly I regard nurses.
In the most recent episode, when you had the conversation with Dr. Ofri, who'd written the book, When We Do Harm.
You had asked her to give your her big take away from the series and basically she said like, look, there are outliers and people with a broad range of psychopathologies in every line of work and not just medicine. What is your big takeaway from the series? Well, I think she's exactly right about that. I mean, you know, there are bad doctors, but there are bad policemen. There are, you know, bad clergymen there. There's every profession.
You know, there are bad teachers. Every profession has, you know, a range of people, the vast majority of whom are good, caring people who do their jobs well. And I mean, you probably get this. It's like, well, why do we do the stories about the bad people? Well, it's you do the stories about the bad people so you can correct them and hold them accountable and not have it happen again. And but we recognize that they are the exceptions, that they are the outliers, but they expose larger truths about the system.
And that's why we that's why we do these stories. So I think I think Dr. Jeffrey's right about that, that there are outliers, but that doesn't mean that they're not newsworthy and there's not value to telling these stories. Everyone's heard of Glenn Maxwell, Jeffrey Epstein's alleged partner in crime, but there's a shadowy figure who hangs above her who you likely don't know her father. Media tycoon Robert Maxwell. His rise from nothing to fall from the deck of a super yacht under mysterious circumstances is straight out of a crime novel.
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What changes do you think might help improve the system? You know, I think more transparency with regard to to the discipline and accountability. And, you know, I think making institutions follow the rules that are in place. I mean, one of the things that happened with Christopher Dunned is that there were supposed to be mandatory reporting requirements for doctors in his situations.
And yet the institutions in question found loopholes that that really allowed them to circumvent those safety measures.
So I think, you know, maybe we don't need more rules. Maybe you would need people to follow the rules that are out there to try to hold doctors accountable.
You know, I thought about that in both the two parallels in both season one and season two of Dr Death and season one. You have that amazing, you know, recording where the Doctor Henderson, I think, is on the phone and he's he's with the man.
He's talking with the medical board, this group of doctors in Austin who are supposed to be ensuring that doctors are operating appropriately and safely and there's just no progress on this, even though, you know, patients have been maimed at this point.
And then also in season two, when, you know, you get the report from the nurse who gets no action at all, like we're hanging chemo the wrong way and patients are getting the wrong kinds of treatment. And these, as you said, these.
These systems and rules exist and both of these cases, they weren't really doing their jobs, right? Right. And you don't know like what happened behind the scenes, but you know that that especially in the case of Angela Swan, tech support like, did they investigate it at all? I mean, she couldn't even tell that they did anything like it just sat on someone's desk for a while and then it was passed on. I mean, we can't know what happened, but we know that she definitely she definitely tried to alert them that something is not right and you should investigate this and nothing happened.
There's some interesting parallels between my podcast Do No Harm and Dr Death.
They're very different.
But there's these they both look at the impacts of the decisions made at trusted institutions like in my in my series, the parents we follow and do no harm brought their kids to the hospital after what they said were accidents, unaware that, like behind the scenes, a whole nother process had begun that had very little to do with treating their child's injuries. Dr Death is all about the trust patients place in a pair of bad doctors. What should the take away be for people, are we just supposed to stop trusting doctors?
Is that do you think that's the message? Absolutely not.
We have to trust doctors and we have to recognize that there are doctors who maybe shouldn't be practicing. But overall, you you have to I think you just have to do as much research as you can. And one of the tragic things and do no harm is that, you know, the brights did everything they could. That got a second opinion. That's what we tell people, get a second opinion. And yet the second opinion wasn't even taken into account when they had their children taken away, taken away from them.
So, yeah, trust your trust your doctor. You have to trust your doctor.
But you also. I guess have to be mindful if there are red flags, but again, the advice is so inadequate because it's so hard for us to put the burden on patients to do this when there are supposed to be institutions that that hold people accountable.
I've listened to your podcast and I've I've done written stories where, you know, you can see physicians in rare cases making. Decisions that aren't in a patient's benefit, that are maybe more driven by their own financial well-being or covering, you know, helping their own career. And these are outliers. But I guess I wonder if there's a way to both admire people for their profession while also, you know, being appropriately suspicious or does that make sense?
I think so. But I think we can I think we can hold those two truths together. I think we can recognize certain professions as as generally heroic in our society, while also recognizing that there are members of that profession who betray the that sense of heroism that we give them. I, I, I think it's a good point. I think I think both can be true. I think both can be true.
I think in the end, even though there are clear bad actors in the stories you tell on Dr. Death, I think both series highlight systems in there are a lot of individual people who are just kind of a piece in that system. And and I think that's where the similarities lie, that, you know, one individual's bad decision doesn't or decision not to speak up or decision to kind of rubber stamp it is a choice to remove children.
Those individuals only have so much power. And it's it's kind of this whole collective system that is is responsible in the end. It's not just one person somewhere.
And I think it is harder for lower ranking workers to speak up because they they are in such danger of losing their jobs. If they do, I think that's why it's it's more incumbent upon.
Hire workers, administrators, other doctors, other supervisors to to speak up because they take risks as well. I mean, certainly George Karaj took a risk. They take risks as well.
But I my sense is that the risks for lower ranking workers are even greater because they're seen, as you know. Perhaps more expendable, and if they if they speak up, they'll just be fired and someone else will be hired and it's it's sad that that's the case.
Look, I know you've been writing about these things for years. Was there anything even for you, like a hardened health care reporter that surprised you in this season? I wish I could say yes, but, um, you know, I've seen a lot I've been in the business almost 30 years and I've I've seen a lot of. I think as I said in the series, what what constantly surprises me is the resiliency of people to overcome. And that's not saying it's any if you can't overcome it, it's any kind of character flaw, but because that's the natural but there are people who have overcome so much and I guess those are the things that really surprise me and give me hope.
Well, I know that, you know, when you're telling these stories. Yes, they're horrifying.
But your goal here is not just to horrify people like any any good journalists. You're shining a light on something that needs a light shined on it.
And I'm just wondering, you know, after all of this, what would be the one thing that you would like to see people take away or even be inspired to do as a result of listening to Dr. Death?
You know, I get asked that a lot.
And, you know, the first the easiest thing to say is just, you know, try to research your doctor as much as you can before you go to them. But it's it's can be hard to do.
I mean, as you know, it can be hard to do because the information that we have about our providers is so limited.
But even as flawed as that advice is, that's what I would say is, is if, you know, if your Spidey sense is telling you something's not right, then follow up on it to the to the degree that you to the degree that you can and force your and force the people to hold accountable those people who should be held accountable. Get a fresh start toward the future you want with the credentials you need, earn a degree or certificate online from a University of Maryland global campus, UMG offers an accredited state university education online courses that work with your schedule, virtual advising and lifetime career resources to guide you along the way and even know cost digital materials replacing most textbooks.
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You know where you want to go. UMG can help you get there. Take your first step at UMG CTT Use podcast. That's UMG dot edu slash podcast. While you were working on season two, I know you got an unexpected message. First, can you remind us who Jerry Summers is? And you know how that interview came came about? Yeah, Jerry Summers was Christopher Dench's a best friend, and he.
Chris operated on Jerry in February of 2012, and he was unable to move after that operation, Jerry didn't want to talk when I visited him, when I was doing the reporting for season one.
But he did decide this year that he was ready to talk. And he sent me an email and said, you know, if you if you want to contact me, here's my information.
As soon as I heard that interview, I, I sent you a message just to say, like it was so powerful that it almost had the effect of restoring my faith in humanity, which is a big thing for for me.
And so I was just I think everyone who heard that must have been just amazed that this man who's had his life just. Devastated and not only not only is he not. Is he not holding a grudge or holding it against Christopher Dunn, the man who did it to him?
He is taking the blame for all of his crimes, like his shoulder. I could have stopped it. Why didn't I stop it?
That was so hard to listen to. But also just surprising in a time when it seems like, you know, there's a lot of powerful people in the world who aren't willing to take responsibility for anything. And here's someone whose life has been practically stripped from him and and he's saying, I'll take I'll take the blame for this. It's amazing.
Yeah, that was completely unexpected. I didn't realize that that he had been carrying around that kind of guilt. And I think the complexity of his feelings really speaks to the complexity of, you know, the human condition. We can all hold feelings inside of us that are maybe in conflict and incongruent with with maybe what we think we should feel. But and I think Jerry probably illustrates that more than more than anyone. I mean, the fact that he has such deep empathy for the other people that Christopher Dunn's hurt and at the same time.
He blames himself for that and he. Does or does not blame Chris, I never could quite figure that out and maybe Jerry doesn't know that. I mean, Jerry still loves Chris. Does he blame him? I, I don't know. Or does he blame the people around him more? Who should have known that he was incompetent and and stopped him? I I'm not I'm not clear on that. I don't know if Jerry's even clear on that.
Well, my my takeaway is that we just need a whole lot more Jerry in the world, I think. I think that would be a good thing.
Yeah. Now he does have certain difficulties in his life. I mean, one of the things we couldn't get into really in the story is he has such ongoing issues with, you know, his equipment caregivers.
I mean, he's he's living off of you know, he has a finite amount of money. You know, I think he got a settlement from Baylor. I don't know how much, but he's got to live off that the rest of his life.
And so he does have ongoing struggles. He texted me yesterday and said, well, it's you know, it's it's now whenever five o'clock. And I haven't had a caregiver show up today.
And he does have ongoing struggles and the fact that he still is not a bitter person. Even with what he faces every day, I think is pretty extraordinary. With both seasons of Dr Death, you are reporting on stories that involve trauma, a lot of trauma. Like real human suffering, and I know Heather did a lot of the reporting season, too, and of course, in season one, talked with a lot of people who. Who've lost loved ones, who are who maybe for the first time had the courage to share it in the interview with you, and I know those are hard, and I just wonder you must be affected by it yourself.
And I'm wondering, how do you cope with that as a reporter?
Well, I mean, probably the same way you do. I mean, we all deal with absorbing the trauma of the people around us.
I think, you know, and we have to consider right now we have colleagues who are just working themselves to death, writing about covid and people suffering from covid and especially, you know, local journalists writing about their communities.
And and and I really feel for them. I haven't written that much about covid itself, but I feel for those who have because it's just such an ongoing stressful story. But, you know, you do that, too. I mean, I think that's part of you know, that's part of how we have to do our jobs, is to talk to people about terrible things that have that have happened to them.
You know, I, I, I approach it from the point of view of I will try to make their suffering, give it some meaning and be grateful for them for sharing their stories.
That that's the way I look at it is maybe if I can if I can take their story and do some good with it, then maybe in some way that might not help their immediate situation, but it might help someone else.
And so I guess I have to look at the at the the hope in it and not just the despair.
How do you deal with it?
Well, I can tell you, being in the mix covering cover this year while working on Do No Harm, I've cried a hell of a lot more after after interviews or, you know, after after getting a story filed where one of the subjects of the story has literally died of covid in the midst of the reporting and writing process.
Like and you don't react in the moment, but maybe after the story's filed or it's published, it all kind of hits you. And and, you know, I tell my wife about it and I have a little cry. And and even with reporting on do no harm, which is, you know, a story about. Parents who meant well and who lost custody of their kids, and it's really hard to listen to and you kind of absorb all of that, but it sounds like what you're doing and I do the same thing you're doing the same thing that the subjects of these stories are doing.
When you say, like, maybe if I tell this story, it'll give purpose to the tragedy.
And that's exactly what. Some of these families are doing when they talk to you and they tell you about how their loved one was killed at the hands of a bad doctor or suffered at the hands of a bad doctor, like there's nothing that they can do to bring their mom or their, you know, husband back. But they are they're telling you the stories, I bet, in most cases because they're hoping that it might do some good and put some good out into the world to take something terrible and give it a purpose.
I think we also have to be mindful when we do this reporting to to take care of to take care of our sources as as best we can. I know, you know, if it's if sometimes, you know, you can ask someone say they've experienced a trauma, you know, are you do you have someone you can talk to or are you seeing a therapist that you can talk to after this to help you deal with it and then just checking in with them when they're talking to you, you know, do you feel like you can go on because you don't want to push someone beyond what they are emotionally able to handle?
And so so I do that as well. Like, you know, if you can't talk anymore, that's OK. That's a great point.
So it has reporting on these stories change the way you think about how we get medical care. Or how you get medical care for yourself or a loved one. Not for me personally, because I was already already probably like you, pretty versed in it before I started, you know, before I started working. So it hasn't it it hasn't changed the way I get care. And and frankly, when I need you know, if I have a relative who needs something serious, you know, I I always try to talk to people I know, like, I've even, you know, called, you know, Randy Kirby from from season one.
It's like, OK, you know, somebody I know needs back surgery and they've got doctors so and so, you know, would you is that a good idea? You know, and but that's what you have to do, is ask ask people who use that doctor before, because our our information is so limited. It's tough when you don't have a doctor kearby in your cell phone contact, right? Yeah, well, look, I think that's a good place to leave it.
I like I said, I'm a huge fan of your work, and I'm just so glad you like about this. So thanks for taking the time. Oh, thanks for the conversation. From One Tree, this is a special episode of Doctor Death Season two to listen to both seasons of Doctor Death Ad Free. You can join 100 plus in the laundry app. If you want to help us spread the word, please give us a five star rating and a review on Apple podcast and be sure to tell your friends.
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I'm your host, Laura Beal, associate producer is Chris Siegel, managing producer is Latha Pandya, Sound Design by Jay Rothman. Our executive producers are George Lavender, Marshall Louis and Hernan Lopez, for one wondering.
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