Utah has had inordinately high numbers of patients who had PFO and ASD heart closure procedures. From 2001 to present, an estimated 10,000 procedures were performed in Utah. This represents a disproportionate number of patients having PFO closures and similar ASD (atrial septal defect) closures performed in the catheter labs of local hospitals. Recent evidence shows that many of these procedures were performed in violation of FDA and AMA standards.
A quarter of the population has a PFO or an ASD (a little hole between the upper chambers of the heart where tissue failed to fully develop). According to all leading experts, the vast majority of these holes are considered to be clinically insignificant.
The American Medical Association and the FDA indicate that in the vast majority of cases patients are exposed to more risk with surgery than by simply leaving the hole alone. Surgery is only indicated in the most extreme cases. The medical standard for recommending a PFO closure is that: 1) the patient must have suffered a TIA (transient ischemic attack) or stroke; 2) then have been placed on aggressive blood thinners; and 3) then suffer another TIA or stroke. The medical standard for performing ASD closure procedures is equally strict.
It has recently been discovered that there were terrible abuses to PFO and ASD patients by a local cardiologist in the catheter labs of several local hospitals.
From about 2001 through 2011 one of the offending doctors performed approximately 7,000 PFO and ASD closures. That is a rate 100 times greater than cardiologists around the country. According to a source, this doctor grossly over-utilized “TIA” and “stroke” diagnoses. By doing so he generated a frenzied paranoia and buzz in the community. Migraine sufferers and people with other conditions started self-diagnosing TIAs and strokes and seeking out this offending doctor to have heart surgery. This doctor also created excitement in the medical community by referring thousands of patients for expensive MRI and Echo studies.
This deception resulted in bias with some local radiologists and neurologists who began offering MRI reads skewed in favor of unethical PFO and ASD surgery practices. As this scheme continued, the doctor became more brazen. On multiple occasions a source claims to have seen the doctor deliberately punch out and enlarge otherwise clinically insignificant holes in the hearts of patients, only to close the holes by using expensive permanently-implanted closure devices.
This scam was perpetrated for money and the doctor made millions of dollars. His formula for getting paid by insurance companies was simple. He first had to offer an approved diagnosis of multiple strokes or TIAs. He then had to implant the closure device. In short, he had to have a hole big enough to fit the device into. A reliable source claims that the doctor made a practice of submitting fraudulent applications for insurance payments by showing false histories of “stroke” or “TIA,” rather than submitting truthful histories of “migraine headaches” or other non-operative conditions.
The offending doctor created a massive influx of expensive tests and procedures for doctors and hospitals. With this leverage, he kept all possible whistle blowers silent for years as his practice enriched nearly every associated medical professional, and the hospitals where he received privileged access.
This doctor performed thousands of expensive unnecessary PFO and ASD closures in a 10-year period. The medical frenzy and buzz he created within the community took on the energy of a Ponzi scheme, as thousands flocked to him for his “magic touch” while his medical benefactors looked on. Many medical professionals now consider him to be the “Bernie Madoff of Cardiology.” You could say he was a more successful criminal than Bernie Madoff; unlike Bernie, this offending doctor remains a free man and a millionaire.
Unfortunately several of his local colleagues adopted his unethical practices creating an epidemic of patient abuse.
The Harm Caused to the Patients
These unnecessary heart surgeries cost each patient more than $30,000. There is evidence that these surgeries can double the risk of stroke and atrial fibrillation. The devices require expensive follow up visits, expensive blood thinners, and more expensive Echo studies. According to a recent FDA advisory, many of these victimized patients are also now at risk of developing potentially fatal heart tissue erosion.
In patients where erosion is detected, open heart surgery is often required to remove the closure device and repair a now even bigger hole. Some patients have allergic reactions to their closure device. There are yet others, who were convinced to have a second closure device implanted because the first wasn’t properly placed.
In addition to the financial and physical harm caused, many of these patients could be uninsurable, if insurance laws change. In addition, there is also psychological harm caused by believing they suffered strokes when they did not.
To this day no notice of this scheme has been sent out to patients.
YOU DO NOT HAVE TO HAVE ANY CURRENT SYMPTOMS TO QUALIFY! If you had a PFO or ASD closure performed at any Utah hospital by any doctor from 2001 to present, we are happy to confidentially talk with you, to determine if yours was a case of medical abuse. If so, I can explain your options for receiving compensation for the physical and financial harm you have suffered.